July 10, 2020

Lifecamp Newsletter #4

Leadership lessons from Netflix, how to build resilience, and why simplicity should be your goal


How are you doing? Big news from me; I became a Dad last month. Having a baby rearranges your world overnight, but it has been super-rewarding and fun so far. A couple of impacts on me which I have observed so far:

Babies are great for time-management. You live life entirely on their schedule rather than your own. This means you get things done when you can rather than when you choose, and you absolutely get them done within the time that is available to you. That job that used to take 30 minutes? You now do it in seven. But you might have to do it at 3am rather than 6pm.

Babies are terrible for productivity. This is obvious and expected. My time-management game may have been shocked into hyper-efficiency mode, but I currently have very little time for my own ends, so things like writing and research will have to take a back seat for a little while. Not that I’m complaining. My son is totally worth it.

Ten leadership lessons from The Last Dance

Despite the life upheaval, I managed to publish a couple of pieces in June. The first being a list of leadership lessons and quotes that I took away from watching The Last Dance documentary series on Netflix. The show was a nostalgia-fest for me because I used to follow the NBA in the nineties. Even if you’re not interested in basketball, the series is still worth a watch because it documents a piece of cultural history and showcases the teamwork and leadership skills required to perform at the highest level, packaged in a compelling story.

How to build resilience and navigate grief

The theme for 2020 seems to be just when you thought things couldn’t get any wilder, tomorrow will prove you wrong. With so much crazy shit going on in the world right now, people are being affected in unforeseen ways. With turmoil and unrest being seen on a global scale, it is easy to forget that everybody who is being affected must deal with their own unique set of circumstances on a personal level.

Having to cope with sudden adversity or loss is one of the hardest things we experience in life. Sadly, few of us are adequately equipped to deal with such calamities. When they hit us, we can find ourselves trying to muddle through while we are in a state of distress and at our least prepared, which just compounds the difficulty.

With that in mind, I have written a guide for building resilience, navigating grief, and finding post-traumatic growth based on a mix of psychological theory and some of my own unfortunate personal experiences. Hopefully, it can help people when they find themselves facing the hardships that life inevitably brings our way.

Simplicity is powerful, but it isn’t easy

Something I have been musing on this month is the power of simplicity. Specifically, how incredibly effective and deceptive it is. Effective because the simplest solutions to problems are usually the best and most robust. Deceptive because truly effective, elegant simplicity is not easy to achieve. It requires a lot of hard work.

People often mistake complexity for sophistication and assume that simplicity is easy, but there is much evidence to the contrary. High-level simplicity actually resides on the far side of complexity.

Take the current crop of smartphones. They feature sleek designs with intuitive user interfaces that can be navigated by a single button or even none. Such a simple, elegant user experience requires a lot of sophisticated planning, design, and technology under the surface.

Similarly, the best writing is simple, clear, and concise. To end up with sleek prose that communicates ideas to the reader in a precise, engaging way requires a lot of hard work. Even the top-end pros start with a sloppy first draft that must be meticulously edited to create the tight prose that sings off the page when you read it. That is the invisible craft of writing well.

Albert Einstein believed simplicity to be the highest form of intellect and famously quipped:

“Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a real genius to make something simple.”

He listed the five levels of intellect, from best to worst, as being:

  • Simple
  • Genius
  • Brilliant
  • Intelligent
  • Smart

This thinking is echoed by James Clear in Atomic Habits:

“The highest level of mastery is simplicity. Most information is irrelevant and most effort is wasted, but only the expert knows what to ignore.”

Designers have a famous maxim in “less is more”. Indeed, good design is said to be invisible, because optimally designed things are so simple and intuitive to use that they go unnoticed.

The wheel and the lever are examples of intuitive, simple design that we take for granted. They have few parts, can be made from almost any material, and are hard to break. These technologies have had such an incredible impact on the world and seem so fundamental that it is hard to imagine them not existing.

The lesson here is that, when we look for effective, robust solutions to the problems we face in life, we should keep them as simple as possible and not get tempted by, or lost in, complexity.

Ideas often start out complex, and processes often evolve to become increasingly complex as they get adapted to solve more problems over time. If something isn’t optimized in your life and you are looking to refine it, aim to make it simpler, not more complicated.

One final quote from French writer and aviator Antoine De Saint-Exupery neatly ties this idea into a tidy takeaway:

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing less to take away.”

App recommendation: Instapaper

I am a curious person who likes to read a lot, and I find a lot of interesting stuff online every day. The problem is, I am not always in a position to read it when I come across it, so I will often hit a link and leave the browser tab open on my phone for later. I recently found I had close to 100 browser tabs open. Ridiculous, I know. I figured that there must be a better solution for handling content you stumble across but don’t have time to read in the moment and don’t necessarily want to bookmark. Turns out there is: Instapaper.

Instapaper is a free phone app that allows you to save articles you find online to create a kind of custom-built magazine you can read anywhere. When you open up the app, everything you have collated is there, ready for you to read, distraction-free.

It’s slightly fiddly to set up, but once you have created your account and got it working, its classically designed, distraction-free interface is a pleasure to use. It’s a wonderful way to compile a curated list of long-form content that you can read any time, anywhere. If you are a fellow sufferer of the too many tabs open on your phone problem, give it a spin. It will mean you always have a more nutritious alternative to getting sucked into the infinite scroll of social media feeds when you need a content fix.

Book of the Month: The 48 Laws of Power

Marketed as “The book so powerful it was banned from prison” and fittingly described to me by a friend as “like being mentored by Lucifer.” In The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene lays out a series of principles you can use to control your environment, the people around you, and, in turn, your own destiny.

This book is undoubtedly brilliant and provides a blueprint for personal advancement that can be devastating. If it has a weakness, it is its length. Each law is backed up by a chapter of anecdotes illustrating how it has previously been applied by influential historical figures. While these are often interesting, the point is usually well made before the end of each chapter, making the stories feel like filler after a while.

The lessons in 48 Laws… are highly valuable, so don’t let this put you off. My recommendation would be to read each chapter until you get the point and then jump to the next one if it starts to drag. Alternatively, read the Concise 48 Laws of Power, which contains all the same principles with less padding.

Final thought

At some point in the not too distant future, society will find itself entering what keeps being referred to as “the new normal.” This poses the question, what elements of the old normal do we wish to retain, and what should we leave behind? Rather than fall back into our same old patterns, let’s reflect on the past and use it to make a better future.

“The only thing that matters about the past is what you learned from it.” – Jocko Willink

Until next time, keep it simple,