Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success

The Impact Formula: New Evidence on the Factors that Lead to Breakthroughs

November 16th, 2016 · 24 comments

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Quantifying Impact

Earlier this month, a group of researchers from Albert-Laszlo Barabasi’s circle of network scientists published an important paper in the journal Science. Its nondescript title,  “Quantifying the evolution of individual scientific impact,” obfuscates its exciting content: a massive big-data study that dissects the publication careers of over 2800 physicists to determine the combination of factors that best predicts their probability of publishing high impact papers.

As you might expect, this endeavor caught my attention.

A high-level summary of the researchers’ results highlights two major findings:

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Neil Gaiman’s Advice to Writers: Get Bored

November 11th, 2016 · 20 comments

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Boring Advice

Earlier this summer, the beloved writer Neil Gaiman was a guest on Late Night with Seth Meyers to promote The View from the Cheap Seats.

At one point in the interview, Meyers asked Gaiman about boredom. Here was Gaiman’s response:

“I think it’s about where ideas come from, they come from day dreaming, from drifting, that moment when you’re just sitting there…”

“The trouble with these days is that it’s really hard to get bored. I have 2.4 million people on Twitter who will entertain me at any moment…it’s really hard to get bored.”

What’s the solution? Gaiman adds:

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Abraham Lincoln’s Advice to Voters Unhappy with this Election: Suck it Up.

November 7th, 2016 · 27 comments

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The Lesser of Two Evils

In the early fall of 1848,  a little-known congressman from the frontier of Illinois set off to Massachusetts to address fellow members of his political party, the Whigs.

His name was Abraham Lincoln.

To put Lincoln’s trip in context, it’s important to remember that the issue dominating the 1848 presidential election was the expansion of slavery into the new territory won in the Mexican War. The Democratic candidate, Lewis Cass, was in favor of extending slavery to these new territories. The stance of the Whig candidate, Zachary Taylor, was less clear, though it was generally assumed he would oppose the expansion.

This assumption was not enough, however, for the strongly anti-expansion Massachusetts Whigs. Taylor was a slaveholder and his refusal to definitively reject expansion made him, in their eyes, a sub-optimal presidential candidate — so they refused to support his nomination, and, during the summer of 1848, became riled up by Charles Sumner, a particularly well-spoken and energized young man who was pushing his fellow party members to vote instead for a dark horse third party candidate, Martin Van Buren, who was emphatically against slavery.

Here’s Sumner talking to the Whigs in Worcester in June, 1848:

“I hear the old saw that ‘we must take the least of two evils’…for myself, if two evils are presented to me, I will take neither.”

This should sound familiar.

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The Opposite of the Open Office

October 19th, 2016 · 21 comments

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The Bionic Office

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Joel Spolsky’s claim that Facebook’s massive open office is scaring away talent. The comments on the post added many interesting follow ups; e.g., a pointer to a recent podcast episode where a Facebook developer claims the office is rarely more than a third full as people have learned to stay home if they want to produce anything deep.

A critique of open offices, however, inspires a natural follow-up question: what works better?

For one possible answer we can turn once again to Spolsky.

Back in 2003, when Spolsky was still running Fog Creek, they moved offices. Spolsky blogged about his efforts to work with architect Roy Leone to design “the ultimate software development environment.”

He called it the bionic office. Here a picture of a standard programmer’s space from the outside:

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A Famous Rabbi’s Advice for Getting Important Things Done

October 12th, 2016 · 27 comments

shapiraKalonymous Kalman Shapira was an influential Polish Rabbi murdered by the Nazis in the Trawniki concentration camp. Before the war, Rabbi Shapira published a respected book on learning titled Chovas haTalmidim, which roughly translates to The Student’s Obligation.

A reader (and religious studies graduate student) named Daniel recently pointed my attention to the following excerpt from this book:

“[N]o amount of resolve will help a person unless he learns to budget his time and utilize it for accomplishment. For an undisciplined person’s days and nights are confusion, all of his time is confusion and is wasted. Every night he will say, ‘How did the day pass? I didn’t even feel it passing; it stole away from me and escaped.’ In this fashion, the next day and the following one will also slip away, wasted and used up on inconsequential matters.”

What is Rabbi Shapira’s suggestion to avoid undisciplined time confusion? This should sound familiar…

“If you have compassion on yourself, you will learn to budget your hour; every hour will have its own task. You should decide before you begin how much time you want to spend at even mundane matters…Your hours should not be left open, but should be defined by the tasks you set for them. Write out a daily schedule on a piece of paper and don’t deviate from it; then you will reach old age with all your days intact.”

If this computer science thing doesn’t work out for me, perhaps I should consider yeshiva…

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I’m pleased to announce that the audio version of So Good They Can’t Ignore You is now available to listeners in the UK. You can listen to an excerpt here or find our more here.

Is Facebook’s Massive Open Office Scaring Away Developers?

October 9th, 2016 · 39 comments

In Search of Silence

Joel Spolsky is a well-respected figure in Silicon Valley. He created the popular Trello project manager software and is currently the CEO of Stack Overflow.

He’s also one of the first Silicon Valley insiders to publicly and directly endorse the importance of deep work over the fuzzier values of connection and serendipity.

At the GeekWire Summit earlier this week, Spolsky made the following claim in an on-stage interview:

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Nassim Taleb’s (Implied) Argument Against Social Media

September 30th, 2016 · 33 comments

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Fooled by Shiny Apps

Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness is a classic in the genre of erudite idea books. It’s an extended discussion of the many different ways humans misunderstand the role of probability in their everyday lives.

The book is most famous for its attack on the role of skill in money management (Malcolm Gladwell called the book the Wall Street equivalent of Luther’s ninety-five theses), but it touches on many other topics as well.

As a reader named Rainer recently reminded me, Taleb also includes a passage quite relevant to the dominant role new technologies like social media, or Apple watches, or the latest, greatest smartphone app play in modern life (see if you can sight the 1990’s-era Michael Lewis reference):

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Quit Social Media

September 21st, 2016 · 61 comments

Anti-Social Grumblings

I recently gave a deliberatively provocative TEDx talk titled “quit social media” (see the video above). The theme of the event was “visions of the future.” I said my vision of the future was one in which many fewer people use social media.

Earlier this week, Andrew Sullivan published a long essay in New York Magazine that comes at this conclusion from a new angle.

Sullivan, as you might remember, founded the sharp and frenetic political blog, The Daily Dish (ultimately shortened to: The Dish). The blog was a success but its demands were brutal.

For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week…My brain had never been so occupied so insistently by so many different subjects and in so public a way for so long.

In recent years, his health began to fail. “Did you really survive HIV to die of the web?”, his doctor asked.  Finally, in the winter of 2015, he quit, explaining: “I decided, after 15 years, to live in reality.”

This might sound like an occupational hazard of a niche new media job, but a core argument of Sullivan’s essay is that these same demands have gone mainstream:

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