Monthly Archives: January 2012

May the Muses Embrace You

From the fun blog Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience, a letter from Norman Mailer to Salman Rushdie:

Dear Salman Rushdie,

I have thought of you often over the last few years. Many of us begin writing with the inner temerity that if we keep searching for the most dangerous of our voices, why then, sooner or later we will outrage something fundamental in the world and our lives will be in danger. That is what I thought when I started out, and so have many others, but you, however, are the only one of us who gave proof that this intimation was not ungrounded. Now you live what must be a living prison of contained paranoia, and the toughening of the will is imperative, no matter the cost to the poetry in yourself. It is no happy position for a serious and talented writer to become a living martyr. One does not need that. It is hard enough to write at one’s best without wearing a hundred pounds on one’s back each day, but such is your condition, and if I were a man who believed that prayer was productive of results, I might wish to send some sort of vigor and encouragement to you, for if you can transcend this situation, more difficult than any of us have known, if you can come up with a major piece of literary work, then you will rejuvenate all of us, and literature, to that degree, will flower.

So, my best to you, old man, wherever you are ensconced, and may the muses embrace you.

Cheers,

Norman Mailer

(h/t Tyler Willis)

Fortune Excerpt on Networks and Relationships

This week’s Fortune magazine contains two articles of note! The first is a lengthy excerpt from The Start-Up of You. The second is a brief profile/introduction of Reid.

The brief profile ends by mentioning the book:

In 2009, Hoffman joined venture firm Greylock, where he runs a seed fund and helps manage a portfolio of nearly 100 companies, including Groupon (GRPN), Tumblr, and AirBnb. With LinkedIn’s IPO and other investments, Hoffman is worth some $1.5 billion. Now comes his book, The Start-Up of You, in which he shares tips on building a great career. Paramount among them: being an authentic networker. After all, Hoffman has 800 Facebook friends and 2,579 LinkedIn connections, and sits on six corporate and four nonprofit boards. At meetings he spreads out no fewer than five screens — iPads, Androids — to keep up with contacts. That skill has helped Hoffman recruit to Greylock such web stars as former Mozilla CEO John Lilly. Hoffman now believes that the defining principle of the web’s next innovation cycle is data. “We are generating a massive amount,” he says. “What are we inventing?” It’s one of the first questions he asks everyone he meets. The other: “How can I help you?”

The funny thing is, “authentic networker” is oxymoronic to some. The cynical view of “networkers” is that they are by definition not very authentic. We prefer the term “relationship-building” and talk more about building “networks.” As it relates to authenticity, there’s also the challenge of trying too hard–obvious attempts at sincerity leave us cold. This made writing about the topic particularly challenging for us: in the very act of writing analytically and prescriptively about how networks work and how you should deploy them in your career, it’s hard not to come off as overly calculating–exactly what we’re saying not to be.

The reality is that unless the process of bonding and allying with others comes off as effortlessly as tying your shoes, which is to say, unless allying and helping really *is* what you want to be doing, the collaborative mind-set will fail, and so, ultimately, will the relationship.

All that being said, check out the excerpt for an introduction to some of the network themes we address in the book. In the full chapter, we go deeper on each of these points, and expand into other topics.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting a bit more on networks here on my personal blog, over at the Startup of You blog, and leading discussions in the LinkedIn Group, which I encourage you to join and participate in. The book is about much more than networks, but it is an excellent theme to start with!

The Jammed Career Escalator: Old Premises, New Realities

Centuries of immigrants risked everything to come to America with the belief that if they worked hard, they would enjoy a better life than their parents had. Since the country’s birth, each generation of Americans has generally made more money, been better educated, and enjoyed a higher standard of living than the generation that came before it. This expectation of lockstep increases in prosperity had become part of the American Dream.

For the last sixty or so years, the job market for educated workers worked like an escalator. After graduating from college, you landed an entry-level job at the bottom of the escalator at an IBM or a GE or a Goldman Sachs. There you were groomed and mentored, receiving training and professional development from your employer. As you gained experience, you were whisked up the organizational hierarchy, clearing room for the ambitious young graduates who followed to fill the same entry-level positions. So long as you played nice, you moved steadily up the escalator, and each step brought with it more power, income, and job security. Eventually, around age sixty-five, you stepped off the escalator, allowing those middle-ranked employees to fill the same senior positions you just vacated. You, meanwhile, coasted into a comfortable retirement financed by a company pension and government-funded Social Security.

People didn’t assume all of this necessarily happened automatically. But there was a sense that if you were basically competent, put forth a good effort, and weren’t unlucky, the strong winds at your back would eventually shoot you to the top. For the most part this was a justified expectation.

But now that escalator is jammed at every level. Many young people, even the most highly educated, are stuck at the bottom, underemployed, or jobless, as Ronald Brownstein noted in the Atlantic. At the same time, men and women in their sixties and seventies, with empty pensions and a government safety net that looks like Swiss cheese, are staying in or rejoining the workforce in record numbers. At best, this keeps middle-aged workers stuck in promotionless limbo; at worst, it squeezes them out in order to make room for more senior talent. Today, it’s hard for the young to get on the escalator, it’s hard for the middle-aged to ascend, and it’s hard for anyone over sixty to get off. “Rather than advancing in smooth procession, everyone is stepping on everybody else,” Brownstein says. (I’ll address why it got jammed in a future post.)

What’s replaced the career escalator? There’s no single metaphor that universally describes the 21st century career journey. For those who lack globally competitive skills (and yet who are simultaneously overqualified for low-skill labor), the current environment feels like slogging through a tar pit. For people with the relevant skills, the journey is like a vast ocean voyage: unpredictable waves, multiple routes to arrive at a destination, the need to keep investing in your vessel lest it capsize, the allies who form an armada around you to cross perilous straits. A recent Fast Company cover story called the winners of the post-escalator job market “Generation Flux,” a reference to their ability to acquire new skills, adapt to change, and reinvent themselves.

Whatever you call the current climate, the point is that the old premises of the career escalator have given way to new realities, and with new realities come new rules. The new rules are ones entrepreneurs have mastered for years and they are the inspiration behind The Start-Up of You.

Old Premises, New Realities

Old: Ready, Aim, Fire…Retire
New: Almost-Ready, Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire

Classic career strategy is Ready, Aim, Fire. Ready is mental, introspective (e.g. pondering “what am I passionate about?”). Aim refers to crafting a long-term career plan. Fire means executing on the plan. Ready-aim-fire (and then retire) no longer works. You can’t plan your life or career like you used to. These days, the better approach is almost ready-aim-fire-aim-fire-aim-fire. Entrepreneurial career strategy involves learning while going, executing while planning, finishing while starting, aiming while firing. There are no clear start and finish points; no designated “ready” or “set” phase followed by a “go” phase. Still, despite the need for constant recalibration, you can be disciplined about how where you choose to direct your energies and how you choose to adapt to unpredictable changes.

Old: Be Loyal to Your Employer and They’ll Be Loyal to You
New: The Employer-Employee Pact is Over; Extend Loyalty to Your Network

LeBron James grew up in Ohio. He married his high school sweetheart from Akron. The Cleveland Cavaliers picked him first in the 2003 NBA draft. A couple years later, LeBron James was widely viewed as the greatest basketball player alive. In Ohio, he was God. (A giant billboard in Cleveland with his photo was headlined, “We Are All Witnesses.”) Yet even as he racked up accolades, the one thing he wanted more than any other–an NBA Championship–eluded him. In mid-2010 LeBron James announced that he was leaving Ohio. He said he was taking his talents to the Miami Heat, a team with a stronger supporting cast, because he wanted to “win now and in the future.” Ohio fans felt betrayed. Sure, he was technically a free agent. But what about loyalty? What about roots? To LeBron, a better career opportunity meant more than his loyalty to Cleveland. While this was a case of a superstar athlete abandoning his team and city, teams have initiated break-ups just as often. The New York Knicks traded away NBA-great Patrick Ewing, even though he had played a record 1,039 games in a Knick uniform.

Today, every young, talented professional is like LeBron. There used to be a long-term economic and psychological pact between the employee and employer–the mutual expectation that a job within the “family” culture of corporations like Ford or IBM guaranteed lifetime employment (and generous benefits once you retired). It’s been replaced by a performance-based, one-day contract that’s perpetually up for renewal by both employee and employer. If you want to keep working at a company, you have to prove your worth–or else they’ll show you to the door. These are competitive times. An organization can’t afford deadweight, regardless of a person’s seniority, loyalty, or prior competency. By the same token, if you are valuable and a company wants to keep you as an employee, it has to earn your loyalty: it has to offer a competitive salary, engaging opportunities, meaningful work–or else you’ll head to the door.

Old: Network Your Way to the Top
New: Build a Network of Allies and Looser Connections

Because loyalty is no longer flowing vertically from you to your employer and vice versa, direct your loyalty horizontally, as Dan Pink suggests, to your professional network–to friends, current and former colleagues, and allies who may work in different companies or industries. Those are the people with whom you want to maintain authentic lifelong connections even as you move from company to company.

We’re all now cynical about “networking.” Yet, despite our cynicism about networking in a self-serving, “what can you do for my career” sense, online social networks are huge. And one’s professional network still matters more than almost anything else. Building a valuable network of allies and weak ties is a different project than classic networking.

Old: It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
New: The What-You-Know Comes From the Who-You-Know

When knowledge and information were scarce, you could distinguish yourself on the “what you know”–the knowledge and information you had in your head. When knowledge and information became abundant and free, business gurus re-emphasized the “who you know.” Anybody can Google information, they said, yet not everybody can have a vibrant network of relationships. In reality, both information and relationships matter, and they work in tandem. That’s because some important knowledge and information resides not on the internet but in the heads of the people you know. For example an experienced business veteran who knows the company you work for may be the best person to offer subjective insight on a financial dilemma (e.g. “How should I respond to the latest bid?”). Or a colleague at work may be the only person who could advise you on negotiating with your boss over a disputed point. People are frequently better founts of career intelligence than objective, static information sources.

Old: Search for Jobs When You’re Unemployed
New: Continually Search for and Generate Breakout Opportunities

Career strategy used to be a topic you discussed when you were looking for a job. But entrepreneurial professionals know they must always be investing in themselves. Instead of “job hunting” when they’re out of work, they’re continually on the look-out for “opportunities.”

Success begins with opportunities. Opportunities are like the snap to the quarterback in football. You still have to move the ball down the field; you still have to execute. But without a snap to the quarterback, there’s no touchdown. For a young lawyer, an opportunity could mean being assigned to work with the smartest partner in the firm. For an artist, it could be a last-minute offer (perhaps due to a cancellation) to exhibit at a prominent museum. For a student, it could mean being awarded a rare scholarship to travel and research.

Remarkable careers are punctuated by breakout opportunities. If you ask people of note to reflect on their career, you do not hear about a sequence of equally important jobs. Instead, they highlight specific breakout opportunities that led to unusual career growth. These killer opportunities didn’t fall into their lap; they knew how to spot and create them through a series of specific behaviors.

Old: Risk is Bad, Minimize Risk
New: Risk is Unavoidable; Proactively Take Intelligent Risk

Risk wasn’t a relevant concept in the days of the career escalator. The idea was to avoid risk, and avoid “high risk” career moves like freelancing. This is exactly opposite of how winners think today. Every opportunity contains downside risk. To effectively exploit opportunities, you have to be take on the right kind of risk, and manage it prudently. In so doing, you build resilience to the seismic industry and competitive changes that destroy professionals on a more brittle “low risk” path.

There is an entrepreneurial approach to intelligent risk taking, and you may be surprised at how different it is from the stereotyped bet-the-farm, throw caution to the wind approach that people tend to think of when they think of entrepreneurs.

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Don’t forget to pre-order the Start-Up of You before February 14th for free special offers!

When Talent Can Easily Find New Opportunity, How Do You Retain Talent?

Talent moves around more and more

Talent in Companies

There used to be a long-term economic and psychological pact between employee and employer that guaranteed lifetime employment in exchange for lifelong loyalty; this pact has been replaced by a performance-based, short-term contract that’s perpetually up for renewal by both sides.

As an individual professional, you aren’t wild about pledging lifelong loyalty to a single company because, thanks to LinkedIn and other services, you can more easily locate new opportunities and you can more easily be found by recruiters and companies. The grass is always greener on the other side; now it’s easier than ever to see that grass, and chase it. Companies, as a result, don’t want to invest in training and developing you in part because you’re not likely to commit years and years of your life to working there — you will have many different jobs in your lifetime.

In the Start-Up of You, we talk about how individual professionals should manage and invest in themselves in light of this more fluid relationship with employers.

But how should companies think about the implications of these expectations? How do companies think about HR and retention? If individuals live the Start-Up of You, it means that if you have 500 employees you do not have 500 individuals ready to be subservient and loyal for life; rather, you have 500 businesses-of-one who are leasing their talent to you at this point in time.

Instead of denying the job-hopping, opportunity-seeking ways of young talent today, it seems wiser for companies to face the reality and embrace it. Help employees develop transferrable skills. Help them build the start-up of themselves. And be very explicit with new hires about the expectations: “We expect you to give us a really strong tour of duty for 2-3 years. When you leave, we expect you to be part of our corporate alumni group. We want you to be part of our corporate alumni network. We want you to help recruit new employees. We want you to be lifelong ambassadors and evangelists for our products and services. But we know you’re super talented and will come upon many other career opportunities while you work here. We know your tenure at the company may not last more than a few years.”

Essentially, try to retain employees for as long as possible, but be frank about their likely brief tour of duty, and be clear that you expect them to be active corporate alumni members for the years after they leave the company.

Talent in Countries

Elites of troubled or poor countries ask themselves: “How we keep our brightest young here? How do we get them to build companies here, be part of the local workforce, and (re)build the local economy?” In Greece, this was the question elites in the country were thinking about. I just returned from a few days in Morocco–it was a huge topic of conversation there, too.

Usually, elder elites appeal to youth’s sense of nationalism / patriotism: “You’re Cypriot. This country raised you. Stay and help grow your country.” Or, as I suggested to some Greek entrepreneurs during my trip there, governments could appeal to the business opportunities associated with societal problems–many problems means there are many potential solutions. Trash collection has become impossible in Athens due to protests; perhaps the wealthy would pay for a private trash collection service?

But if they’re honest, older government officials and businesspeople know that for the average 18, 19, 20 year-old in Cyprus or Morocco there will, on average, be more professional opportunities abroad. Government officials fear that if they acknowledge this fact publicly, talented youth will flee. The problem is, they’re going to flee anyway, or at least try to, because they see the economic dynamism abroad. They watch MTV Cribs.

So here’s a radical view: government and business elites in certain poor/developing/troubled countries should explicitly tell their most talented youth to go abroad. Indeed, help them to do this–pay for it, even. As part of this, forge with them a new social contract. Have them sign a document stating their expectation to return after 5-10 years. When they return, they can share what they’ve learned abroad and infuse their native culture with the attitudes gleaned from the cultures in which they spent their 20’s. Plus, chances are they’ll be even more patriotic upon return. Spending time abroad can remind you how Moroccan, or American, or Greek you really are. You realize how many of your habits are cultural; you feel more affinity for your native culture.

The big difference, of course, between the company example and the country example I’ve mentioned is that once an employee leaves a company, he isn’t likely to return again later, whereas for countries, the point is the emigrant will one day return. But maybe this could be made parallel as well. Bain & Co. and McKinsey famously invite ex-employees back after they’ve gained additional experiences elsewhere.

Bottom Line: Talent seeks opportunity. With opportunity increasingly visible and accessible, talent is moving around more and more. Poor countries should relinquish the idea that they can hold onto all their best young people; instead, send a high profile number of them abroad, and get them to commit to return home later. Company executives, similarly, should relinquish the idea that employees will profess long-term loyalty to their corporation. Instead, they should be explicit with employees about signing up for a tour of duty for a period of time and, from then on, remaining an active ambassador and recruiter for the company as part of the corporate alumni group.

Pre-Order The Start-Up of You

Today, I’m finally ready to talk about a project I’ve been working on for a very long time!

I’m coauthor, with Reid Hoffman, of a new book titled The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, which comes out February 14, 2012.

What’s the book about? New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in his column last summer previewing the book, captured some of the key themes:

Its subtitle could easily be: “Hey, recent graduates! Hey, 35-year-old midcareer professional! Here’s how you build your career today.”

Hoffman argues that professionals need an entirely new mind-set and skill set to compete. “The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone,” he said to me. “No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.”

The strategies in this book will help you survive and thrive and achieve your boldest professional ambitions. The Start-Up of You empowers you to become the CEO of your career and take control of your future…no matter your profession or stage of career.

Intrigued? You should pre-order now on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com.

 

To nudge you to pre-order now instead of waiting, we’re running a special promotion that expires in three weeks. Order the book before February 14th and you’ll get a free bookplate / sticker in the mail with Reid’s signature and my signature that you can adhere to your hardcover book.

Plus, we’re giving away 20 different books to one person (selected at random) who pre-orders our book now. It’s not random reading list; we’ve curated a list of 20 outstanding books on entrepreneurial career strategy, adaptation, network building, and opportunity creation. Your library will be much richer because of them.

Simply forward your email receipt to [email protected], and you’ll get the autographs in the mail for free and a chance to win the 20 additional books–again, totally free. (Full legalese about the contest here.)

We will not be running this promotion again. Thanks for your support! More soon…

One Earth

To the question, “Has an astronaut ever had a psychotic episode or mental breakdown while on a mission in space?” an answerer on Quora says no, but posts the below quote as representative of epiphanies astronauts tend to have when staring at Planet Earth:

You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

— Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut, People magazine, 8 April 1974.

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So the question is, how long will it be till all of us can go a quarter of a million miles out and see what Edgar Mitchell saw? Here’s to the entrepreneurs pioneering commercial space flight: Go Richard Branson! Go Jeff Bezos! Go Elon Musk!

U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East and China

Two recent foreign policy articles are worth reading; they’re especially interesting when compared to each other.

Mark Helprin’s sobering essay in the Claremont Review of Books is titled The Central Proposition. It’s about American foreign policy as it relates to the utopian Bush/Obama vision of the Middle East. It opens:

For a decade, the central proposition in America’s foreign relations has been that it is possible to transform one or another Islamic nation and indeed the Arab Middle East or the entire Islamic world. We have apportioned a crippling share of our resources and attention to this project. We have tried force, diplomacy, aid, propaganda, confession, persuasion, apology, personality, and hope. And as one approach fails it is supplanted by or combined with another, the recipe depending upon who happens to be in the White House.

Helprin gives intellectual/historical credence to what many Americans are feeling on an emotional level: a desire to pull back, to restrain ourselves, to give up on democratization projects, to be less interventionist even when there’s humanitarian aims.

But isn’t democracy and the desire for freedom universal and shouldn’t powerful countries enable that?

To succeed, a paradigm of “invade, reconstruct, and transform,” requires the decisive defeat, disarmament, and political isolation of the enemy; the demoralization of its population; the destruction of its political ethos; and the presence, at the end of hostilities, of overwhelming force. In Iraq and Afghanistan none of these conditions was fulfilled, the opposite impression flowing mainly from our contacts predominantly with an expressive, Western-educated elite, and from our failure to understand that despite the universal human desire for freedom, equity, safety, honor, and prosperity, the operational definitions of each of these objectives can vary so much as to render the quality of universality meaningless.

Helprin ends his piece saying that as we’ve been bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, China continues to rise as America’s most challenging long term foreign policy issue.

Which leads to Robert Kaplan’s fascinating profile of John Mearsheimer in the latest Atlantic. It’s an overview of the man, his ideas, how his “muscular” foreign policy beliefs compare and contrast to other thinkers. And it’s about his conviction that the smartest foreign policy minds and the bulk of the Pentagon budget should be focused on China, not the Middle East. (Kaplan spends ample time on Mearsheimer on Israel, so I won’t rehash those qualifications/disclaimers here.)

I found it broadly educational, but I wanted to point out two minor quotes/sentences somewhat unrelated to the thesis of the article:

“Offensive realism,” he writes in Tragedy, “is like a powerful flashlight in a dark room”: it cannot explain every action throughout hundreds of years of history, but he exhaustively goes through that history to demonstrate just how much it does explain.

I like the flashlight metaphor as a clever way of saying “despite a few exceptions, it’s mostly right.” Also this:

As Huntington once told his protégé Fareed Zakaria: “If you tell people the world is complicated, you’re not doing your job as a social scientist. They already know it’s complicated. Your job is to distill it, simplify it, and give them a sense of what is the single [cause], or what are the couple of powerful causes that explain this powerful phenomenon.”

That’s the job of a lot of leaders, isn’t it? Take complexity and simplify it, then explain it, then assign causes, and finally propose action for dealing with it.

“I’m Not as Smart as I Thought I Was”

How do you deal with feelings of intellectual inadequacy?

A high school student applying to MIT is struggling with these feelings. Here's one reply on this Reddit thread via Cal Newport:

The people who fail to graduate from MIT, fail because they come in, encounter problems that are harder than anything they’ve had to do before, and not knowing how to look for help or how to go about wrestling those problems, burn out.

The students who are successful, by contrast, look at that challenge, wrestle with feelings of inadequacy and stupidity, and then begin to take steps hiking that mountain, knowing that bruised pride is a small price to pay for getting to see the view from the top. They ask for help, they acknowledge their inadequacies. They don’t blame their lack of intelligence, they blame their lack of motivation.

During my freshman year, I almost failed out of differential equations.  I was able to recover and go on to be very successful in my studies. When I was a senior, I would sit down with the freshmen in my dorm and show them the same things that had been shown to me, and I would watch them struggle with the same feelings, and overcome them. By the time I graduated MIT, I had become the person I looked up to when I first got in.

You feel like you are burnt out or that you are on the verge of burning out, but in reality you are on the verge of deciding whether or not you will burn out. It’s scary to acknowledge that it’s a decision because it puts the onus on you to to do something about it, but it’s empowering because it means there is something you can do about it.

So do it.

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I am hyperaware of situations where I feel intellectually outmatched. When I do, I don't think the solution is only "deciding" that I will improve myself to meet the challenge, per the comment excerpted above. That's necessary–and it's why surrounding yourself with people who push you to do this is key–but it's not enough.

Feeling intellectually outmached also forces me to think harder about my unique combination of abilities–where I have a comparative advantage in the specific situation. No one is smarter than you in every possible way. Smart is very context specific.

NCAA Student-Athlete Commits to Alabama

Two nights ago, a top high school football recruit announced live on ESPN–during the "Under Armour All American Game"–that he will go to Alabama for college. The video of him being interviewed is pretty amazing. His mother, sitting right next to him, follows up her son's announcement by declaring immediately afterwards (still on national television) that she disapproves, and that LSU is still #1.

Probably because I'm watching Friday Night Lights (I'm in Season 3 – it's awesome), the thing I thought of when watching the interview was, "What happens if this big recruit gets injured and there's no NFL jackpot? Or what happens if he goes pro and then gets injured or has a short career? Then what?"

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The Atlantic had a cover piece the other month titled The Shame of College Sports. It was a well-written argument for why college athletes–who generate billions of dollars with of revenue for companies and their universities–should themselves be paid. I think they should, given the circumstances. They are hardly "student-athletes." Stripping away the veneer of the NCAA–and for that matter, the false promises of universities everywhere–is an important project. And for some reason, the commericalized "recruiting announcement" broadcast on ESPN the other night I think helped in that effort.

Book Notes: Launching the Innovation Renaissance

AlextAlex Taborrok’s Launching the Innovation Renaissance is full of common sense about how to promote innovation in America. Unlike so much “innovation” literature that is disconnected from policy realities, Taborrok offers specific policy observations on patents, immigration, education, and more. He also offers helpful ways to think about themes like the rise of China. At two hours tops to read and a $2.99 price point for the e-book, it is an easy way to be brush up on some of the straightforward ways to accelerate innovation in a country.

My highlights from the book:

After hundreds of years of experience, there is surprisingly little evidence that patents actually do promote the progress of science and the useful arts.

Imitation is not as easy as it appears even with an exact recipe. What is true about recipes and the French Laundry is also true about innovation in general. It takes effort and time to imitate a product even when the formula is known.

The major vice of a prize fund is that it replaces a decentralized process for rewarding innovation with a political process.

“Sit down, stay quiet, and absorb. Do this for 12 to 16 years,” we tell students, “and all will be well.” Most of them, however, crash before they reach the end of the road — some drop out of high school and then more drop out of college. Who can blame them? Sit-down learning is not for everyone, perhaps not even for most people. There are many roads to knowledge.
How many visas are allocated to people of extraordinary ability from China, a country of over 1 billion people? 2,803. The same number as are allocated to Greenland.
Should Bill Gates get prostate cancer, his billions will get him a private room and a personal physician, but they won’t do much to extend his lifespan beyond that of a middle-class man with the same disease.
The United States benefits not just from more idea creators in China, India and the rest of the world but also from more idea consumers. Recall the problem of rare diseases. People with a rare disease are doubly unlucky: They have a disease and only a few people with whom to share the costs of developing a cure. Misery loves company because company can help pay for research and development. Misery especially loves rich company. I wish ill on no man, but if I get a rare disease, I do hope that Bill Gates gets the same one.
I see two views of humanity. In the first view, people are stomachs. More people mean more eaters and less for everyone else. In the second view, people are brains. More brains mean more ideas and more for everyone else. The two different perspectives are not just a matter of ideology or mood. We can look for evidence for or against these views.