Archive for Books

Follow-up On Work The System

Cover of The Systems Mindset

Sam Carpenter is the author of the terrific book Work The System. I wrote about it here. The content was mainly about business, so about the running of a company using standardized procedures.

Now, Sam has published a follow-up, which centers around your personal life. Is is called The Systems Mindset and is available for free here.

I highly recommend it, I will write a review of this inspiring book later.

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Work the System and The OS Fund

Picture courtesy of halfrain (Flickr)

In the book Work The System, Sam Carpenter states that reality is composed of a large number of systems, that for 96% work flawlessly:

I work the system, but not just one. I work all the systems in my control— professional, financial, social, biological, and mechanical. You have your own systems. Do you see them? Do you control them? It doesn’t matter whether you are a CEO, employee, stay-at-home mom or dad, retiree, or student. Your life is composed of systems that are yours to control—or not control.

My personal summary of the method:

  1. Identify or define a system, for instance your weekly shopping round
  2. Design ways to decompose the workings of this system, identify ways to control it
  3. Compose the improved version of the system by writing a procedure or installing a life hack
  4. After every iteration, evaluate the improvements (Kaizen)

Reading this book certainly changed my perspective, my way of looking at my circumstances. Most people define a large portion of the things happening to them as fate and feel helpless about a lot of their life events. When you have the epiphany of, what the author calls, the systems mindset, you not only recognise a lot of systems in your life, but you can also design ways to control them and thereby improving the outcome of the circumstances to your advantage.

Systems are everywhere, even your own body and health can be viewed as systems that are either under your control or not, but when you can control them, you should try to improve.

The systems mindset is rational, the way to optimize the systems is largely a cerebral activity, spirituality, emotions, the heart, are not considered by the author. That is a limitation of the approach but still I find this way to reduce learned helplessness very inspiring.

The OS Fund

Last month, I listened to the conversation between Tim Ferriss and Bryan Johnson, investor. They talked about the so called OS Fund. This fund of 100 M US$, promotes the mindset of what they call analysing the underlying operating system of phenomena, like economics, medicine, trade, aviation, space travel, etc.

In the same way that computers have operating systems at their core — dictating the way a computer works and serving as a foundation upon which all applications are built — everything in life has an operating system (OS). It is at the OS level that we most frequently experience a quantum leap in progress.

Bryan Johnson, courticy of Wikipedia

Bryan Johnson has high ambitions. We can improve the intricate mechanics of reality, just like we can improve the operating system of a computer.

OS Fund Manifesto
Free pdf or audio book of Work The System
Follow-Up on Work The System, with focus on personal life.

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The Checklist Manifesto

Checklist Manifesto Book Cover

This book impressed and inspired me. It explains what the benefits of checklists in a professional (work) environment are, especially with teams. Atul Gawande, the author, uses many examples from his own medical background, but he also writes extensively about aviation and the building of sky scrapers.

Since I also work in large projects, I found the chapter about building sky scrapers very inspiring. Here, of course, they use checklist for the work itself, containing every step. But additionally, they also have a list of building decisions or design decisions that should be made. If your name as a specialist is on that list, together with the names of a few other specialists and the description of the technical detail itself, you are assigned to come together and decide about how the technical detail should be solved. This is a way of decentralizing design work.

I think we in the large IT projects can adapt this way of working, using ticketing systems like Jira or Bugzilla. If you are assigned to solve a specific IT problem that is part of a larger project, you receive a ticket with the description and the names of one or few other specialists. Together, you come up with a solution and document this in the ticket. This looks a lot like ITIL, but then used as part of a large build project, not in system administration.

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Kevin Rose interview with Elon Musk

Elon Musk it the founder of SpaceX, Tesla Motors and the commonly known, Paypal.

I love the way the electrical cars from Tesla look.

Recently, Kevin Rose has recorded this interview with Elon, which I recommend.

One of the books that Elon recommends is the biography of Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson (Amazon link). Isaacson is a great biographer and this is certainly on my reading list. (Just finished the biographies of Einstein and Jobs.)

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What Level of Complexity is Real?

Last week at Tilburg University, I attended a lecture / masterclass of the MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle. (Organized by the Dutch Nexus Institute).

Fractal 1

The question that came to my mind, was not so much psychological as it was philosophical. Nature, the physical world, has many layers of detail and just as many realms of complexity. On the one hand, there are the microscopical and sub-microscopical levels. Little particles seem forever to be comprised of even smaller sub-particles. This level of complexity seems endless. On the other hand, there is the level of the stars, planets, milky way and universe. There is a countless number of stars and the universe is immense. So, at the macroscopic level, the complexity is endless to.

But even if you restrict you view to only the realm of humanity, there are different levels of complexity. On the one hand, you can have the social interactions within the family and on the other end the whole world with global trade, the Internet, global media. Life can be very simple, like the life you have in your street and the contact you have with your neighbors. Also, the contact with elderly people and children can be very simple and straightforward.

With all these different levels of complexity or simplicity in the human realm, the question for me is not which one of these levels are the reality, since they all seem to be real in their own vein. The question that I find interesting is: what is our natural level of complexity, what realm is the most relevant to the human condition, contributes most to our being?

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On My Reading List

James Gleick, the science journalist / author, has written and published an important book about the history of information, information theory and information flood, The Information (Amazon Link)

Picture of the book

I have read this excellent article by Freeman Dyson on the New York Times Review of Books. Dyson summarizes:

According to Gleick, the impact of information on human affairs came in three installments: first the history, the thousands of years during which people created and exchanged information without the concept of measuring it; second the theory, first formulated by Shannon; third the flood, in which we now live.

The New York Times itself has also featured a review by Janet Maslin, entitled Drumbeat to E-Mail: The Medium and the Message which added to my eagerness to get my hands on this book.

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