Category Archives: Quotes

What is Thinking?

From the lecture ‘Solitude and Leadership‘ by William Deresiewicz:

… Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.

Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality. Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now—older people as well as younger people—you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself. You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice, whether it’s yourself you’re thinking about or anything else. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” Notice that he uses the word ‘lead’. Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff.

Quote of the day

I like this one:

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

This is most commonly attributed to Albert Einstein, but the credit for it should probably really go to William Bruce Cameron, a Professor of Sociology.

More info on its history here.

The Razor Returns

I’ve written before about Hanlon’s Razor — one of my favourite aphorisms — but I realise that it was 16 years ago, so perhaps I can be forgiven for returning to it!

It is quoted in various forms and attributed to various people, but the version I heard originally was:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Worth repeating to oneself on a regular basis, I find.

On the topic of quotations, though, a longer recent discussion about Hanlon’s Razor on the Farnam Street blog includes this rather nice one from the German general Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord:

I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent – their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy – they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent – he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.

Quote of the day

This one is from Sam Altman:

The hard part of standing on an exponential curve is: when you look backwards, it looks flat, and when you look forward, it looks vertical. And it’s very hard to calibrate how much you are moving because it always looks the same.

Thought for the day

In order to progress, modern society should be treating ruined entrepreneurs in the same way we honor dead soldiers, perhaps not with as much honor, but using the exact same logic. . . .

— Nassim Taleb

Conway’s Law

Somehow, I hadn’t come across Conway’s Law until today, despite the fact that Melvin Conway came up with it when I was still wearing nappies.

Conway’s Law states that:

Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.

Or, as it is often more briefly stated,

Any piece of software reflects the organizational structure that produced it.

If you’ve worked on software of any scale, you will know how true this is! Another nice form is:

If you have four groups working on a compiler, you’ll get a 4-pass compiler.

Brilliant stuff. More information on Conway’s Law and some of its corollaries here.

Quote of the day

Money doesn’t change you. It just reveals who you really are when you no longer have to be nice.

— Tim Ferris

Quote of the day

I like this one:

Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.

— Bill Gates

Thought for the day

Reading a second Dan Brown book constitutes the triumph of hope over experience.

Deep thought for the day

All the world’s a toolbox
And all the men and women merely pliers

9 to 5

A couple of nice quotes from this talk by Nicolas Lara on how his company, Lincoln Loop, works (and thrives) despite being small, globally-distributed, and with employees working from home.

This one, I think, is particularly true:

It’s hard to do a really good job on anything you don’t think about in the shower.

– Paul Graham

and, on maintaining a healthy work-life balance:

Every one of us has learned how to send emails on Sunday night. But how many of us know how to go to a movie at 2pm on Mondays? You’ve unbalanced your life without balancing it with something else.

-Ricardo Semler

It’s an interesting talk. I remember a Lullabot podcast from about 18 months ago about how they managed a rather larger but similarly-distributed organisation. Lincoln Loop, though, is not just a distributed company with flexible working hours – it’s one where the finances are open, and where employees, based on their knowledge of how the company is doing, get to choose their own salaries. An interesting concept to ponder.

Or you could always ask Dolly about the more traditional model…

Quentin’s Law of Photography

The second-best camera is the one you have with you.
The best is the one you have in your hand.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser