Mind Crunches #14: 2021 Wrapped!
Alternatively: The Mind Crunches and Ideas I fell in love with in 2021
2020 was a tragic year and unfortunately we will be experiencing the COVID spillover effects for the foreseeable future. However, there is always a silver lining. In this case, it was the acceleration of the scientific research celebrated with the COVID vaccine release, the extremely fast pace of digital transformation and the realization on how symbiotic the relationship between humans and technology is.
Another silver lining, which is usually neglected, is the opportunity we had to spend time with ourselves - a lot of time since most of us were stranded in our homes for months. Most people I know invested time and energy to read more, pick up new hobbies, creatively express themselves and most importantly to contemplate on what they want to do with their lives. If you think about it, the world actually got a bit slower. It felt like we paused and this is something I personally found to be very refreshing.
This is how I opened my 2020 recap newsletter exactly one year ago. Reading it now, I was saddened by the fact that it seems we are back to SquareOne regarding the Covid pandemic (because of the Omicron variant). But as I was thinking more about it, I am now able to see the pretty obvious silver lining which is that my family, my friends and I are still here. Healthy, strong and full of life. Maybe the fact that we have come to appreciate basic and “tangible” things like being alive is an unexpected philosophical and ontological win coming out of these tragic last 2 years. A smaller win is the realization that making predictions is futile. Or to be more accurate, I believe we can all now agree that making predictions based on extrapolations of current trends and dynamics is not only futile but also stupid as Nassim Taleb would say.
Therefore, I decided to write only about ideas, mind crunches, concepts, individuals that inspired me in 2021 and avoid making predictions about the future. Not because I am worried that I will be proven wrong (my last year’s predictions about Enterprise still hold pretty good) but because I want to celebrate the things I learnt. Looking backward is sometimes more fun than looking forward!
Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World: A brilliant re-evaluation of the Mongol empire and the governance tactics they adopted to successfully control such a vast empire.
Analogia: The Emergence of Technology Beyond Programmable Control: Technology Historian George Dyson needs no introduction. An amazing book on the age of analog and how it shaped our current digital environment.
Anthro-Vision: A New Way to See in Business and Life: I am a big advocate of anthropology and the value it can bring to business. One of my favorite books of 2020 was “Gods of the Upper Air” that presented the history of anthropology as a social science. Tett’s book is a great guide on how business leaders can extract insights about consumers, markets and trends from anthropology and it follows a “Rory Sutherland-type” of writing.
Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin: An openly gay civil rights movement leader that mentored Martin Luther King is a strong enough bio note to convince you to read about Rustin’s life. Such a fascinating book that has shaped a lot how I think about leadership, compromises and social movements. Favorite quote: “Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it”
Last Best Hope: America in Crisis & Renewal: George Packer is probably the single person that has “taught” me the most about the American way of life before I decided to move to the US. He is an excellent writer and an insightful thinker and I found his latest book one of the most comprehensive descriptions of the current state of America.
The Rise & Fall of Classical Greece: I consider myself very well-read on the history of ancient Greece but this book provides a truly unique perspective about the driving forces of the rise and fall of the classical period. There are many insights that are worth exploring but the most important ones are that Greeks of that period were extremely innovative both in governance and trade introducing ideas that were -at least- crazy at that time. Also worth noting that decentralized governance, a currently very popular idea, was actually implemented in classical Greece in the form of city-states.
Age of Invention, by Anton Howes: History of innovation, repeated patterns of industrial advancements, overlooked stories of creativity. Hidden gem!
Bismarck Brief, by Samo Burja: Burja has been one of the most (generalist) interesting thinkers. His “Great Founder Theory” has shaped a lot the way I think about organizational management and leadership. Bismarck Brief is an intelligence-grade analysis of a key industry, organization, or live player from around the world. The premium version is pretty expensive but if you are a history buff, it’s worth giving yourself a present.
Noahpinion, by Noah Smith: Smith is an economist, a Twitter celebrity and pop-culture fan. Love his spot on comments, deeply democratic worldview and the fact that he doesn’t take himself seriously.
Not Boring, by Packy McCormick: Not Boring is the most fun way to learn about what’s going on in business and the strategy behind the decisions companies make. The past 6 months, McCormick is the world’s leading expert in web3 and crypto.
Unsupervised Learning, by Razib Khan: The blog you didn’t know you wanted. Khan is the leading expert in population genetics and consumer genomics. He writes about Romani genetics and survival against the odds, Indian genetics, as well as a long-term project delving into the mysteries of steppe conquerors and civilizations especially as told through our genes today.
The Intrinsic Perspective, by Erik Hoel: Science + Art have many similarities and this blog is a celebration of their powerful combination. Hoel is a scientist and author with a PhD in neuroscience, working on developing aspects of Integrated Information Theory, the first well-formalized scientific theory of consciousness.
Hunting Greek Unicorns, by Greek Startup Pirate: Everything you need to know about Greek startups, every two weeks in your inbox. Greek Startup Pirate has also a great Twitter account which is a live case study on how to build and manage a vibrant community. Highly recommended follow!
Pod of Jake: Brilliant technology minds, spot on interviews, great podcast. So simple, so powerful! Favorite Episode: Scott Fitsimones.
The Good Fight, by Yascha Mounk: Mounk is currently one of the sharpest and most important political thinkers. He is one of the world's leading experts on the crisis of liberal democracy and the rise of populism and his podcasts are truly intellectually curious as he invites individuals who usually come from different ideological backgrounds and challenge his worldviews. Favorite Episode: The Pursuit of Happiness. Highly recommended!
Conversations with Tyler, by Tyler Cowen: This is a podcast that I have been recommending for 3 years in a row and I will keep doing so because it remains one of the most interesting and though-provoking podcasts out there. The diverse selection of guests is one of the things that make this podcast unique. Favorite episode: David Rubenstein.
Revisionist History, by Malcolm Gladwell: Gladwell needs no introduction. If you are reading this post, the chances are you have read Outliers and/or Blink in the past. I find Gladwell one of the most gifted storytellers out there despite the fact that I find his latest books (at least) uninspired. His podcast remains, after 6 seasons, a great listen for all things overlooked and misunderstood. Favorite episode: Project Dillard
Econtalk, by Russell Roberts: Roberts is the President of Shalem College in Jerusalem and the John and Jean De Nault Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is famous for popularizing economics through rap videos! He hosts hour-long conversations about pretty much everything, from fiscal policies to parenting. Favorite episode: Glen Weyl.
*in random order
Quadratic Voting: QV is a concept from the RxC political movement. It is a redesigned voting method reflecting the intensity of people’s preferences in collective decisions. It greatly mitigates tyranny-of-the-majority and factional control problems. Voters receive budgets of “voice credits,” which they allocate to different questions on the ballot to signal the intensity of their conviction. Their voice credits convert to “counted votes” according to their square root. So if you put one voice credit on an issue, that is one vote; four credits are two votes; nine credits are three votes, and so on.
Decentralized Autonomous Organizations + NFTs: I wrote extensively about DAOs and their increasing influence on how people connect, form and govern communities here. I am a big advocate, I recently became an Aragon ambassador to further promote and democratize access to decentralized technologies and I firmly believe that we will soon witness large private organizations experimenting with DAOs.
Blockchain technologies: nothing for me to write here. Buterin’s quote below says it all!
Metaverse: here is why I am excited
Gather: one of the first truly Metaverse-focused startups. Customizable digital spaces and fluid video technologies making remote work more human and more fun.
Basic Attention Token: I have been arguing for a few years now that it’s the right time for the digital advertising industry to evolve and leave behind the myopic focus on attention grabbing mechanisms that deceive both users and brands. BAT seems to be a really solid experiment on rebuilding advertising in a more creative and egalitarian way. In a nutshell, it’s a crypto-based mechanism that rewards users for their attention with a token. More of my thoughts on BAT here.
Social Challenges as Product Problems: the past decades have shown that we are unable to address complex social challenges when we approach them with a purely political mindset. But it seems that when we apply a product development thinking we have a better chance fighting corruption, homelessness, racial discrimination and polarization. Quadratic Voting is an example. The Responsible AI Dashboard, Govrn and retroactive public goods funding are other great ideas. Here are some of my thoughts on how to productize the solution to homelessness.
Charter Cities: we start seeing the early competition of city-states (Miami vs California) which means that local governments/states become mission oriented (a la Mariana Mazzucato). The next level of competition will be between existing city-states and charter/crypto cities that will offer economic incentives and consumer citizenships.
Token Airdrops: A few weeks ago, we witnessed the most revolutionary marketing campaign after the introduction of loyalty programs. ENS (Ethereum Name Service) airdropped $ENS tokens to every user who had registered an ENS to reward them for their loyalty but also to give them governance rights to the ENS DAO & community. This is the dream of every consumer brand that currently invests $millions in random, uninspired and non-trackable digital banners.
Homeschooling: this is an idea for which I have changed my mind the past years as I read more about it (mostly by Bryan Caplan). I am now convinced that in an ideal environment where I’d have the time and the patience, it would be much better for my kids to be homeschooled or maybe try a mix of some courses in school and some others at home in small cohorts. Primer is a great startup exploring how to make homeschooling easier and more fun.
Biomimicry: Biomimicry is a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve human design challenges. As we immerse ourselves more in digital environments while looking for more environmentally sustainable solutions in the physical world, we will understand that nature has designed all the right solutions already. Biomimicry Institute is a great place to start if you want to explore some examples of how nature can solve challenges in design, construction, fashion and energy industries.
Happy Holidays 🎄
Thank you for reaching at this point of the newsletter. This probably means that you liked what you read. If this is the case, then the best thing to do is to share this newsletter on your social media and with your friends.
Wishing you a new year with hope, joy and good health!
Favorite Photo of 2021: Greek Blue (shot by my dear friend and gifted photographer Thomas Gravanis)