The Sacred Valley of Peru

“The reasons the Incas called this the ‘Sacred Valley’ are all around you. Discover them in each of our explorations.”

So read the welcome note left on a desk in our hotel room. It rang true: The mountains and fields and Incan terraces surrounding the hotel amounted to quite an awe-inspiring scene.

I’m not sure I was even aware of the Sacred Valley of Peru prior to this trip. I knew about Machu Picchu, and I suppose if you had mentioned the Incan empire, I would have had vague awareness of the history. But five days of hiking and biking around the valley guided by experts brought the history and culture to life. The history of the Incan trails is pretty interesting, and it’s cool to be able to still walk on many of the trails, many of which were built over 500 years ago.

Most intriguing to me was how the Incas saw God in nature. Mountains were God. Trees were God. Rain was God. Many of us feel a sense of awe in nature. Turning that sense of awe into a full religious fervor is something else entirely. Archaeoastronomy is apparently the study of “how ancient peoples incorporated the sun, moon and stars into their daily lives.” The religious connection to the mountains is multiplied by Peru’s insane weather. As someone told Mark Adams in his book below, “I was in the Sacred Valley in 1983 when a hailstorm knocked out ninety percent of the corn crop in fifteen minutes…So if your perception is that the mountains control weather, you’re going to try to make those mountains happy.”

Machu Picchu itself is a sight to behold. Of course, it’s famous, so it’s crawling with people, which distracts a bit from the sacred vibe. It’s still awe-inspiring to see a mini stone city nestled amidst the Andes. And it’s hard to imagine thousands of men carrying thousands of heavy stones to build the buildings, with no modern stone carving tools. The purpose of Machu Picchu is debated among archeologists and historians to this day. Maybe it was a mini temple. Maybe it was simply the home of the Inca. Maybe it was meant as a stop on a longer pilgrimage. Who knows.

In Johan Reinhard’s book — quoted by Mark Adams in the book I link to below — he suggests that “trying to understand places like Machu Picchu and Vitcos as individual, self-contained sites misses a larger point. These monuments were built in relation to the sun, the stars, the mountains—and to one another.”

There are many microclimates in the Valley, and hikes, bike rides, and car tours available at different elevations. On our last day, we climbed to 14,000 feet and experienced a moonscape-like set of lakes and paddies nestled in the the high Andes mountains. There were no other people; just alpacas and shepherds. The whole scene felt quite distinct from the river trails in the basin of the valley.

Overall, I’d rank this part of Peru up there in terms of outdoor activities combined with historical interestingness. (Note that the city of Lima is generally not a recommended stop for tourists and my one day there on the way home didn’t move me to challenge that recommendation.)

The book “Turn Right at Machu Picchu” by Mark Adams is a really engaging tour through Peru and the Sacred Valley from a modern travel writer. The first 20% is slow going, but the last 80% was excellent. Recommended reading if you’re traveling to Peru and aren’t aware of Hiram Bingham’s explorations. Here are some highlights from my Kindle reading of the book:


Measured in square miles, the country is not especially large. On a globe it looks like a swollen California. Within that space, though, are twenty-thousand-foot peaks, the world’s deepest canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), unmapped Amazon jungle and the driest desert on earth. Peru is an equatorial country that depends on glaciers for drinking water. It’s one of the world’s hot spots for seismic and volcanic activity. (Both Lima and Cusco have been leveled by earthquakes; the country’s second-largest city, Arequipa, sits beneath a smoking peak that could blow its top at any time.) Scientists have calculated that there are thirty-four types of climatic zones on the face of the earth. Peru has twenty of them.

“But if the mules do get in front, let them go because they’re stupid and they do stupid things. Of course you know not to stand within”—here he spread his arms wide—“of a mule. I saw a kid a few weeks ago with a hole kicked in the side of his head. He’ll probably get better because he’s a kid. I’ve seen adults with dented skulls that are never going to heal.”

When Bingham saw [Machu Picchu], it was largely in ruins, torn apart by Spanish religious fanatics infuriated by Inca paganism and generations of Andean treasure seekers looking for Inca gold.

“For two weeks out of every year, the sun comes straight down this corridor,” John said, sweeping his gloved hands backward as if he were a matador ushering in the solar bull. “It’s right on the June solstice line, the point where the sun rises on the shortest day of the year. And it’s a straight shot to Machu Picchu. The Incas probably hung some sort of golden sheet or reflector at the end of it to reflect sunlight back to Machu Picchu. Can you imagine how spectacular that would have been? Machu Picchu would’ve still been dark, waiting for the sunrise, when the reflection would just shoot across the valley! “And in that direction

The masonry, like that of most Inca masterworks, tilted slightly inward and tapered as it went up. “Owing to the absence of mortar,” Bingham wrote, “there are no ugly spaces between the rocks. They might have grown together.”

There’s an old kitchen maxim that squid should either be cooked for two minutes or two hours. A similar rule could be applied to Machu Picchu. With a good guide—there are dozens of them lingering by the front entrance—a visitor who’s short on time can see the highlights of Machu Picchu in two hours. A visit of two days, though, allows enough time to take in the site’s full majesty.

One of the major factors in the rise of archaeology had been the birth of the public museum.

“Of course. What’s the difference between Bingham and a huaquero at this point? Nothing. Bingham was very clever at marketing himself. He managed to make himself look like the discoverer. That’s a legend that needs to be completely thrown out.”

Aside from a small group of scholars, administrators, and lawyers at Yale, almost everyone with an interest in Machu Picchu agreed that the artifacts Bingham took should be returned. There has long been, however, some (politically incorrect) doubt about Peru’s ability to take proper care of its antiquities. The National Museum in Lima was notoriously robbed of hundreds of irreplaceable objects in the late 1970s. The Museo Inka in Cusco had twenty-two gold pieces stolen in 1993. One well-known explorer I spoke with recalled handing mummies and artifacts over to the INC, only to return later and learn that they’d been lost or stolen. In 2008, a pair of vendors operating a souvenir shop off the main plaza in Cusco was found with 690 Inca and pre-Inca artifacts; they’d been hawking them on the Internet.

Just now, when we thought there was practically no portion of the Earth’s surface still unknown, when the discovery of a single lake or mountain, or the charting of a remote strip of coast line was enough to give a man fame as an explorer, one member of the daredevil explorers’ craft has “struck it rich,” struck it so dazzlingly rich, indeed, that all his confrères may be pardoned if they gnash their teeth in chagrin and turn green with envy. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about that extraordinary sentence is that it happened to be true.

The irony of Bingham’s prosecution is that he really was smuggling artifacts out of the country, hundreds of them—just not those that Valcárcel had accused him of. The previous year, the historian Christopher Heaney has written, Bingham had negotiated the purchase of 366 Inca artifacts from Tomás Alvistur, the son-in-law of Huadquiña’s owners. After a bit of haggling, the antiquities were smuggled out of Peru and arrived in New Haven, where they outshone the pieces that Bingham had excavated at Machu Picchu. … “Frankly, Bingham didn’t find shit. He bought the Alvistur stuff.” This was the collection of 366 artifacts from the son-in-law of Huadquiña’s owner. “Machu Picchu was completely sacked before Bingham was born. Far and away the best stuff that Bingham got out of Machu Picchu he didn’t find—he bought. The funny thing was, Bingham snuck that stuff out and they wanted to keep it a dirty secret. But that stuff legally they can keep. It’s the other stuff that has to come back.”

The truth about Bingham, perhaps the only thing Paolo Greer and Eliane Karp-Toledo would have agreed on, is that he did something less romantic but ultimately much more important than discovering Machu Picchu. He saw the ruins, quickly determined their importance (if not their origin) and popularized them to a degree that they couldn’t be blown up with dynamite or knocked over in the search for buried gold, as Vitcos had been. Would Machu Picchu exist if Hiram Bingham had never seen it? Of course. Would it be the same Machu Picchu we know today? Almost certainly not.

Similarly, if he’d never published Lost City of the Incas, would Bingham have been accused of stealing credit for the discovery? No. Was he the original Indiana Jones? Not exactly. But if he hadn’t published Lost City of the Incas, would the character of Indiana Jones ever have existed? Probably not, at least not in the form we know.

Why Do So Many VCs Say They’re Introverted?

I wrote a tweet a couple months ago:

Who knew that introversion/extroversion was such a hot topic?! It generated a lot of replies from people I respect. Here’s one:

And this:

And this:

The three replies above, as I understand them, all make a similar definitional point: A person can be introverted and still be highly social; it’s just that the social interactions drain them of energy and they need to re-charge alone afterwards. Fair enough and I appreciated the clarification.

Now, if we accept the premise that VC is an extremely social enterprise, does this mean that VCs who consider themselves introverts by this definition — capable of being highly social — do these VCs find themselves drained of energy at the end of most days?

Mike Arrington replied and said yes:

Brad Feld has also written about how he is “fundamentally an introvert” and, similar to Mike, the venture work stream drains him completely once a year:

About once a year I completely use up my extrovert capacity.  I drain it completely to zero. … The last sixty days have been awesome but extremely intense. My ordinarily full days had the Do More Faster book tour layered on top along with a bunch of other public appearances, interviews, speaking engagements, and events.  About two weeks ago I started feeling a fatigue that I couldn’t get in front of and the last two weeks pushed me over the edge.

For those for whom this is true, who am I to judge their career decisions? It’s hard to perfectly match career to personality; no job will ever be 100% perfect. And this dimension of social/energy is just one consideration on whether VC is the right fit. Both Mike and Brad have been extremely successful in tech and venture capital. I don’t know Mike personally, but I do know Brad, and I know that on balance Brad loves what he does. The VC job, on balance, appears to be a great fit for him.

My point is that, in general, most of the VCs I know are highly extroverted. And this would be logical, because people tend to gravitate to jobs where a primary piece of the job description energizes them, not drains them. So with respect to VCs and introversion/extroversion, I believe there are not as many Mike Arringtons out there as we may think — i.e., people who are “painfully introverted” who do the job well even though it leaves them “exhausted.”

Among this crop of extroverted VCs I know, some still call themselves introverted, which perplexes me. They’re highly social and do not seem — at least to me — not very drained by all the socializing. Yet they nonetheless refer to themselves as introverted.

What’s going on?

First, as mentioned in my original tweet, the “introvert” label has come to be associated with adjectives like thoughtful, intellectual, wise, evolved. Introversion may be a higher status description than extroversion. Extroversion is associated with smarmy networkers. I don’t read many extroverts declaring themselves proud extroverts in public. I do routinely read about people proclaiming their introversion.

I’m fascinated by the evolution of terms and connotations. As “networker” has evolved from being a cutting edge business skill in the Dale Carnegie era to now being term to describe the worst excess of that original skill, so too has “introvert” evolved from formerly describing a shy, awkward minority to now being a broad term that connotes a refined, thoughtful, intellectual air about life that seemingly a majority of people now claim.

Second, the comparison set. VCs in general are among the most extroverted humans on the planet. They (we) are professional meeting-takers, emailers, phone callers, conference attenders, deal makers with others humans. (To be sure, I appreciated the point in the reply tweet embedded above that 1:1 founder meetings is a different type of “social” activity than big group meetings, and VCs do a lot of 1:1 small meetings.)

When you work in venture, you’re comparing yourself to other VCs. I know VCs who take 7-8 calls/meetings a day and then a long dinner, and they do this 4 days a week. But, they look around and see another VC who does all of the above PLUS post-dinner drinks followed by an all-weekend conference, and the first VC thinks, “Gosh, I’m an introvert compared to that guy.” It’s LeBron James comparing himself to Steph Curry and concluding, “I’m not a very good three point shooter,” when LeBron’s 3 is better than 99% of all humans’ 3 point shot. So, it’s a comparison / frame of reference issue.

So, to recap my thinking here:

  • You can be introverted and be highly social. If this is the case, you probably find those social interactions draining. But you can do it successfully.
  • Some VCs are introverted, successful, and are simply drained by the social part of the job.
  • The vast majority of VCs in my experience are highly extroverted, which makes sense in terms of trying to align career with personality.
  • Many more VCs describe themselves as “introversion” than who probably are. Perhaps because of status considerations. Perhaps because of their comparison set.

Thanks to everyone who replied to the tweet and emailed me about it. Definitely pushed my thinking. Happy to hear any additional feedback on these points in the comments.

Village Global: Hiring, Network Catalyst, Founder Retreat

A few Village Global updates:

– We’re hiring a full time GM of Network based in San Francisco. Job description here. Wonderful opportunity for someone looking to break into VC in a non-investing role. A good fit for supreme operators who also understand the startup/venture game. Former bankers, consultants, startup CEOs/COOs, or VC ops people could all be a good fit.

– We run an accelerator program called Network Catalyst. Think Y Combinator, but more personalized, more intimate, more about connections than content. Application deadline was  couple days ago but if you’d like to be considered, email me.

– We hosted an awesome retreat for 80 of our founders near Yosemite last summer. Here’s a video recap of what went down. It highlights some of what makes the Village community special:

How I Officiated a Wedding

I was honored to officiate a wedding recently for some friends.

As I prepared for the duties, I reflected on the number of weddings I’ve attended where, by the end of all the festivities, I couldn’t answer two basic questions:

  1. Who is the other person in the marriage? I know one person in the partnership really well, presumably. What’s the life story of the guy/gal who’s marrying my friend?
  2. Why are these two people getting married to each other? What’s the essence of their dynamic?

Based on this, I structured my remarks to make sure everyone in attendance could at least nominally answer both questions by the end of it. The three-part structure was:

  1. Describe the bride and groom each as individuals: their childhood, basic attributes/personality, professional activities. [This required interviewing the bride and groom beforehand and collecting stories/anecdotes/nuggets.]
  2. Describe who they are as a unit: why they’re marrying each other, how they’re similar (the hallmark of friendship), how they complement each other (the hallmark of partnerships).
  3. Look toward the future and offer some general perspectives on marriage, love, and life.

There were no other speakers or readings during the ceremony, so I ended up speaking for about 18-20 mins and could cover all these points. It worked pretty well.

Of course, no matter what you plan to say, if the audience can’t hear you — literally — it doesn’t matter. I’ve witnessed my fair share of wedding ceremonies where the house A/V doesn’t work, or more commonly, the people speaking don’t know how to use or hold a microphone. With handheld mics, 99% of people hold the mic like an ice cream cone instead of a toothbrush, and so the audio quality oscillates. (Hold it like a toothbrush very close to your lips!) A lav mic is almost always better for this reason but even still it can poorly positioned on the shirt such that as people turn their head when they speak, you start missing words. Anyway, in this ceremony, the mic situation worked fine, thank the Lord!

Below is an excerpt of my closing remarks from my officiating.


We know there will be moments of joy for you both, we just don’t know what, when, or how. Will they occur at predictable intervals, such as at the birth of a child or the realization of a huge professional goal? Or will joy sneak up on you, will it happen when the two of you are going on one of your regular walks around New York, and for whatever reason you see something that reminds you both of an inside joke and you both laugh uncontrollably?

A spiritual teacher once taught me: Don’t miss the joy when it comes! Stay present with the joy as you experience it, he said. He said to tell yourself, “Oh, this is what joy feels like.” “This is what it’s like when I feel happy.” “This is what it feels like to see a beautiful bouquet of flowers.” “This is what it feels like to experience a beautiful sunset.”  We might even look around the room right now, at all our friends and family, and take a second to think to ourselves: This is what love feels like.

In addition to the joy, we also know there will be moments of serious hardship ahead, we just don’t know what, when, or how. Will there be a wave of expected grief at the death of a good friend? Or will malaise sneak up on you guys in a less expected moment, perhaps a pang of doubt on a cloudy day in late fall, doubt about whether you’re doing the right thing in your career or whether – god forbid – you married the right person.

Marriage, in my experience, brings more joy, and sometimes more pain, than if you were living life on your own. It adds dynamism and love and struggle. Amazing highs and sometimes really challenging lows.

The natural human thing to do is to try to hold onto the joyful moments, and avoid the unhappy moments.

But that’s impossible, because everything changes. In fact, someone once summarized the entire cannon of Buddhism in those two words: everything changes. The Buddha argued that everything in life is impermanent.

There have been so many joyful moments in your relationship so far. [Personal details]

So there have been some amazing moments. They’re now in the past. Marriage will be filled with millions more of these impermanent moments. The Buddha taught: Stay awake to the moments of joy that arise from being married to each other, and feel them.  Know that they will pass.

Also be aware of the moments of dissatisfaction that arise from being married to each other. Know that they will pass.

And do what you can to have more good moments than bad ones. That is what I wish for the two of you.


Photo Source: A Perfect Match Photography

Book Review: An American Marriage

“Everyone who reads novels has read An American Marriage,” she told me. I guess I’m behind, I thought.

So I downloaded the book on my Kindle, and got hooked. When I finished the book a couple weeks later, I stared off into the distance for about a full minute. Which I guess in the sign that something really sunk in.

It’s a wonderful story, compellingly told from different viewpoints. The primary theme is marriage and its discontents (and contents). Other themes include criminal justice and wrongful imprisonment (the main character Roy, wrongfully accused of rape) and the colors of the American South. The writing is straightforward but often beautiful.

A good chunk of the book is told via letters, sent from prison, between husband and wife. It’s an incredibly effective technique for conveying the intimacy of love — and doubt.

The final letter contains my favorite line: “My prayer for you is for peace, which is something you have to make. You can’t just have it.”

Other highlighted sentences below. Highly recommended.


Still, the truth is that there was nothing extra. If my childhood were a sandwich, there would be no meat hanging off the bread. We had what we needed and nothing more.

It was a wonderful feeling to be grown and yet young. To be married but not settled. To be tied down yet free.

“November 17,” I said before she could complete her thought. Other couples use safe words to call a time-out from rough sex, but we used it as a time-out from rough words. If either of us says “November 17,” the anniversary of our first date, then all conversation must cease for fifteen minutes. I pulled the trigger because I knew that if she said one more word about my mama, one of us would say something that we couldn’t come back from. Celestial threw up her hands. “Fine. Fifteen minutes.”

One of the hurdles of adulthood is when holidays become measuring sticks against which you always fall short. For children, Thanksgiving is about turkey and Christmas is about presents. Grown up, you learn that all holidays are about family, and few can win there.

But a man who is a father to a daughter is different from one who is a father to a son. One is the left shoe and the other is the right. They are the same but not interchangeable.

As I watched her walk away, I made note of everything about her that I didn’t admire. I ignored the devotion that she wore like a cape, I paid no heed of her strength or hardworking beauty. I sat there thinking of all I didn’t love about her, too angry to even say good-bye.

Smart Is Not Enough: What Marc Benioff Taught Me When I Was 15 Years Old

Many years ago, I cold-emailed Salesforce founder/CEO Marc Benioff. I was 15 years old and starting a CRM software company like his. Would he meet to give me some advice? I wasn’t the only one inspired by Marc’s vision of the “end of software” at the time. But I may have been one of a smaller group who was especially inspired by the fact that Marc had started companies as a teenager back in his day.

To my surprise, he replied, we met for breakfast, and it kicked off a series of meals that we shared over several years. He eventually wrote the foreword to my first book.

At one of our early breakfasts, Marc told me something I’ve never forgotten. I remember the moment exactly. I was wearing a suit and tie, which in hindsight was kind of crazy. (“I hope you don’t normally wear a suit and tie when you go to school,” he said with a laugh.) He ordered pancakes. He had been telling me about swimming with dolphins in Hawaii, what he learned from Larry Ellison, and riffs on spirituality.

He then told me: “Ben, people in Silicon Valley are ridiculously smart. Super, super smart. You’re not going to be able to out-smart people. You have to figure out how to win in some other way.”

I was not lacking in self-regard for my own intelligence at the time. But when he said it, I knew immediately it was true. I may be generally smart but general smarts is like vanilla ice cream. Vanilla ice cream is a fine dessert but it’s not going to win a chef any culinary awards. And IQ is IQ. No amount of study would allow me to compete head-to-head in an IQ contest with the highest IQ people in the tech industry. If you regularly feel like you’re the highest IQ person in the room, you’re hanging out in the wrong rooms. The tech industry may not be as intellectually intense as academic disciplines like chemistry but there are plenty of rooms with off-the-charts IQ people in them, and those are the rooms you want to be in — even if they make you feel a bit inferior at times.

As I contemplated Marc’s comment in the months afterwards, my first plan was that I could out-work everyone in order to be successful. I may not be smarter than everyone else, but surely I could out-work them, right? Then I realized that there were people who could work harder than me, and already were. Damn those people who only need 4 hours of sleep a night!

Marc’s advice is not obvious to a lot of people. These days I still meet many super smart and super hard working people in business who, deep down, are mystified as to why they haven’t been more successful in their careers. They really believe their raw intelligence and/or their work ethic should be enough to carry the day.

Anyway, in the years after that breakfast, in my early 20’s, I came upon two deeper insights that ultimately are how I answer and incorporate Marc’s advice to me.

First, I could get good at facilitating the intelligences of other smart people. You don’t have to be smarter than someone in order to enable that person to be all they can be. Most business efforts involve teams — multiple smart people interacting with each other. If you can develop the ability to work with different kinds of smart people, to bring them together, to facilitate all the IQ points sloshing about, you can be a really high-impact player. In fact, I’d argue this is what great CEOs do well. They’re not the smartest person in the company. But they get all the other smart people to play well together. Arguably, that’s the most important job of all on a team.

Some years ago, my friend Auren Hoffman emailed me and said there had been a cancellation at an event he was hosting in New Orleans and asked if I wanted to take the open spot. I said yes. As I reviewed the list of other attendees, it was obvious that I was the B-list invite to an event filled with other A-listers. I was excited but a bit nervous. Then, a few days before the event, Auren asked me to moderate a 90 minute session with 15 accomplished people at the event. At first I thought he had sent the email to the wrong person; I think I was 17 years old at the time. The people in my session were all much smarter and more experienced than me. But I accepted the task, and I did fine. I did good, even. And it emboldened me with the confidence that I could credibly be a participant in a large meeting even if on paper I wasn’t the smartest or most experienced person.

The second insight I internalized in the years after that breakfast with Marc Benioff was that I could get good at combining multiple skills in unique combinations. Scott Adams once wrote that to be successful you need to either be the very best in one field or the top 25% of skill in multiple fields. In other words, if you’re not world class at something but you’re really good at a couple things and the combination of those two skills produces a valued offering in the market, you can be successful. Example: You can either be one of the top pianists in the world and succeed through sheer singular talent, or be a really, really good pianist (if not world-class) and also be really, really good at marketing (or some other skill), combine the two really-good skills, and success will follow.

Given my curiosity and knack for synthesis, I saw a path for me that would involve getting really good a couple things and combining them in interestingly unique ways (versus becoming solely obsessed with one skill area). I could take basic intelligence and work ethic, and layer on top of that very strong — even if not truly world-class — abilities in entrepreneurship and written / oral communication, for example, and that could produce some interesting career opportunities. (That specific skill combination helped me be a complementary partner to Reid Hoffman over the four years I worked for him.) In the years since then, I’ve continued to hone different skills that in combination in an attempt to develop a unique competitive advantage in whatever market I’m playing in.

Like a lot of important wisdom, Marc’s comment to me at breakfast in San Francisco all those years ago sounded simple. The depth of its truth took years for me to appreciate.

I’ve Been Off Instagram in 2019 (and Book Review: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport)

This past New Year’s day I was sitting in the lounge of the top floor of a very nice hotel in Taipei, looking out over the green hills. I had a lot to be grateful for, on a number of levels.

I had been off the grid for the previous 10 days. I opened up my phone and went online for the first time. I opened Instagram and began to scroll through. The first photo was someone posing in a Happy New Year’s photo from a Four Seasons in Hawaii. The next photo was someone at an epic party at a different Four Seasons in Mexico. The next was a photo of a beautiful family having a great time in the Middle East.

I put my phone down. An odd feeling swept over me. Everyone else was living these ridiculously nice lives in ridiculously fun places for New Year’s…and what was I doing? Oh yeah, I was also at a nice hotel in an exotic locale.

It seemed absurd to be prompted to feel sorry for myself — in that ever-so-slight FOMO kind of way — given the circumstances.

I haven’t really used Instagram since. Seeing a stream of everyone’s most beautiful selves in their most beautiful exotic locales — and choosing to refresh that stream 10 times a day (thanks to the product’s dopamine producing qualities) — didn’t seem like it was making my life better.

It was in this spirit that I was excited to dive into Cal Newport’s latest book, the instant New York Times bestseller: Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.

I’ve been talking to Cal for years about his ideas here and he pulled it all together very nicely in this book. He discusses the philosophy of minimalism applied to technology; why he’s not wildly supportive of “digital detox” routines; the value of leisure time that doesn’t involve devices; and some practical tips to manage tech use, such as deleting addictive apps from your phone (even if you still access them on your computer).

So many of my friends are so incredibly addicted to Twitter, Facebook, email, etc. It intrudes on personal happiness (Cal’s topic) and professional effectiveness (the topic of Cal’s next book). This is rather urgent topic. I’m not much better. As I tweeted recently:

I recorded a podcast with Cal the other week about the book. It’s a 45 minute conversation. You can listen to it here. Show notes pasted below.

Show Notes

Cal starts out by defining what digital minimalism is exactly. He talks about why he refrains from using social media and explains how the mechanics of social apps create something resembling an addiction.

They discuss Henry David Thoreau’s philosophy of time management as explained in Walden, and why you should “think of your phone like the closet in the Marie Kondo show.” Cal explains why a 30-day reset is necessary and how exactly to use that time to find clarity around what is most valuable to you.

Cal talks about the kinds of offline activities that new digital minimalists start to engage in, his unique definition of solitude, and why solitude is so important.

They also give a sneak peek of Cal’s next book, on digital minimalism in the workplace.

Quotes From This Episode

“Minimalism says if you really want to maximize your quality of life, find the things that are really valuable, focus on those, and miss out on the things — not that are bad — but that are good but not that good.”

“The cost of the clutter is going to overwhelm the benefits that each of these things causing the clutter actually creates.”

“You can think about your phone like the closet in the Marie Kondo show.”

“Never before in human history could we get rid of every single moment of solitude in the day.”

“Clean out the proverbial closet and rebuild your digital life from scratch, but just do it much more intentionally.”

The Wisdom of Eric Ries

I was delighted to chat with Eric Ries, world famous author of The Lean Startup, a month ago in front of some of our founders at Village Global. Eric dropped an insane amount of wisdom on the business of starting a startup, pivoting, minimal viable products, and more. Video embedded below and also available as a podcast episode on the Venture Stories podcast.

Show notes pasted here:

Over the nearly 75-minute session, Eric gave a masterclass in Lean Startup techniques, addressed questions from founders on some of the finer details of the framework, and shared what he has learned from his entrepreneurial journey in the early 2000s as well as more recently as founder of the Long Term Stock Exchange.

Eric and Ben start out by talking about uncertainty as the core of a startup and the stark contrast between planning in an early-stage company versus in a large enterprise. Eric points out that those in the startup world take for granted certain startup best practices that “would get you fired in any big company.” He talks about the need for structure around entrepreneurial exploration, including making one’s hypotheses explicit and rigorously testing them.

Eric discusses the difference between customer discovery and customer validation. He tells the story of a founder who interviewed prospective customers and was told that the product was great and that they would use it, but that when he asked those same customers to put their name to a letter recommending their bosses purchase the product, not one would do so.

“The ideas that sound big are usually not the things that end up big.”

They move on to a discussion of pivots and why Eric says that in virtually all cases, after having pivoted, founders say they wish they had done so sooner. He explains why every six weeks is an ideal cadence for a “pivot or persevere” meeting.

MVP (minimum viable product) has become household term that was popularized by Eric. He discusses how founders can get over their fear of shipping something they perceive as incomplete and why he says the ideal MVP has “way fewer features than you think it needs.” He fields questions from Village founders on MVPs and talks about how small companies should think about their MVP when targeting large companies as customers.

“Engineers always think that more features will solve any problem.”

Eric explains what he means when he says that “entrepreneurship is a process of self-discovery” and why managing yourself and your own emotions as a founder can be equally as important as managing those of your team. He also addresses some of the criticisms of the Lean Startup methodology and common misunderstandings of the framework.

“I truly believe that entrepreneurship is a process of self-discovery. I think that two people working on the exact same company, encountering the exact same evidence, and deciding on a pivot, would probably choose two different pivots if they had different values. You discover something about what you really care about.”

Along the way, they discuss some of the seminal works in entrepreneurship, like The Four Steps To The Epiphany by Steve Blank and Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey Moore.

Book Notes: The Point Is by Lee Eisenberg

Lee Eisenberg’s The Point Is: Making Sense of Birth, Death, and Everything In Between is a wonderful set of reflections on the meaning of life — or what “the point” of life really is.

The ostensible thesis is that the meaning of life is all about the narrative you create for yourself:

Whether the theme is “Look how far I’ve come,” or “I want to leave the world better off than I found it,” or “I need to put my hidden talent to better use,” or “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,” whatever the refrain, the narrative we create about ourselves amounts to a “personal myth,”

Throughout the book Eisenberg pulls from different studies, quotes from literature, and pop cliches to reflect on this timeless question. In the hands of a less capable writer, such a scattered approach would be deadly. Eisenberg, formerly editor of Esquire magazine, writes with aplomb.

Below are some of my favorite paragraphs from the book. I began to bold sentences below but then realized I was bolding all of them.


Julian Barnes, in his novel The Sense of an Ending: “How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.”

Arthur Schopenhauer said, “To our amazement we suddenly exist, after having for countless millennia not existed; in a short while we will again not exist, also for countless millennia. That cannot be right, says the heart.”

Margaret Atwood, one of a number of writers invited by Wired magazine to compose a short story using only six words, turned out a classic, right up there with Madame Bovary: “Longed for him. Got him. Shit.”

We don’t need to know everything, the interviewer says, we’ll just focus on a few “key things.” Included among the key things are eight events the interviewer may refer to as “nuclear episodes”—“nuclear” in the sense that they’re central to your personal myth. Nuclear events include a positive and a negative childhood memory; a “wisdom event”; a vivid adult memory; a high point and a low point; a spiritual experience; and a turning point.

It asks that you imagine you have only twenty-four hours to live—so think hard about “Who you did not get to be” and “What you did not get to do.” You’d think, wouldn’t you, that there’d be a huge number of different answers to “Who did you not get to be?” and “What did you not get to do?” But there aren’t. Our answers fall into a handful of categories: Didn’t give enough back. Didn’t make peace with a loved one. Worked too hard. Wasn’t creative enough.

Bertrand Russell, philosopher/mathematician/activist/confirmed atheist, declared in his autobiography that the point [of life] was three things rolled together: love, because love relieves loneliness; knowledge, because knowledge enables us (in theory) to know how the universe works; empathy, because empathy allows us to hear the cries of pain of the oppressed in a world of poverty and pain.

Just as a baby needs food, Jung said, the human psyche cries out for meaning. Jung reckoned that fully a third of his patients suffered from nothing other than the perceived “senselessness and aimlessness” of their lives. And every patient over thirty-five, he said, borrowing from Hamlet, battled the sense that the world felt “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.”

Meaning isn’t a luxury. Meaning is crucial. We have a “will to meaning,” Viktor E. Frankl declared. To be human is to live in three dimensions—the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. It’s this spiritual dimension that compels us to seek answers to why we exist.

There are numerous other avenues to symbolic immortality. Putting something into the world that wasn’t there before can act as a buffer against existential anxiety. Studies suggest that taking pride in, and being admired for, one’s own good works suppresses, at least to some extent, one’s anxieties about dying. Some say the drive for symbolic immortality is what art is all about, creativity in general: putting something into the world that wasn’t there before.

On why we’re afraid of death: There are, you’ll excuse the expression, three main buckets: We’re afraid that death will disrupt our personal goals. We’re afraid that death will do damage to our close relationships. We’re afraid of what happens in the hereafter. To break these down a notch further: We’re afraid of pain and suffering. We’re afraid of nothingness.

Before you die, the book advises, you should (1) ask for forgiveness; (2) extend forgiveness; (3) thank the people who’ve loved you; and (4) say you love them as well. (This presupposes that you really mean it.) The nondenominational minister said a “good death” is when a dying person can say, “I’m at peace with my loved ones,”

Robert Penn Warren, in an exquisite passage near the end of A Place to Come To: “As long as you have a parent alive, you are a child; and mystically, the child is protected, the parent is the umbrella against the rain of fate. But when the umbrella is folded and laid away, all is different, you watch the weather with a different and more cunning eye, your bones ache when the wind shifts, all joy acquires a tinge of irony (even the joy of love for a child, for you feel yourself as the umbrella or lightning rod, if you will, and know the frailty of such devices). Furthermore, with the death of your parent you begin to see in each death the weight of a ‘tale told’… and you begin to feel the fleeting impulse to verbally sum it up for yourself, or for some common acquaintance.”

Of all the last words I collected for possible use in this book, none rival the courage and eloquence of the two words Irish poet Seamus Heaney sent to his wife, Marie, shortly before he died in 2013. The words weren’t engraved in metal or inscribed in stone. They were transmitted in a text message, of all things. And they were in Latin: Nolle Timere—“Don’t be afraid.”

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,” Frankl wrote, “the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

The only other Stephen King book I’ve read is On Writing, his excellent guide to writing more crisply. Here are my notes from that book from 13 years ago.

I’ve never read the Stephen King thrillers that have made him famous; I tend not to seek out books or movies (or theme park attractions) that are likely to frighten me.

King’s new-ish novel, 11/22/63, is a thriller of sorts but not of the horror genre. In any case, it’s utterly compelling for most of the 800+ pages. I recommend it, especially to baby boomers who lived through the 60’s or to JFK assassination theorists — conspiracy or otherwise.

It can be easily summarized: A man time travels back to 1963 and attempts to stop the JFK assassination. The plot explores what the world might be like had that seminal event not taken place.

The writing is fluid and often bare. I highlighted only 37 sentences on my Kindle and there aren’t a lot of interstitial thought-bombs. The writing keeps the plot moving along. If there is life wisdom on offer, it comes in sentence fragments or the occasional witty piece of dialogue.

Mainly, you’re tracking plot and you’re learning about what life was like at the time JFK was shot. King conducted an immense amount of research into the actual historical circumstances of the assassination. Much of the novel, apparently, is historically accurate. You really get a flavor for the Texas of that era.

I thought of Russ Roberts and his frequent admonitions about unintended consequences. It turns out that if you time travel back in time to re-write history, you can’t always anticipate how everything will be different afterwards…