3 min read

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

(volume 1)
A little bit of this, a little bit of that

Hey all - this is my first "melange of random things" newsletter of the year. It's a format I want to play around with - one cohesive essay each month, and one collection of different things that are running around inside my brain. Each of the sections in here are standalone, so feel free to skip around.

And, if you'd rather listen than read, that's here.

First things first

You might not know Chidi Afulezi because Chidi isn't really the self aggrandizing type, but a) his newsletter Fashi Mindset is one of the few in the "open this immediately when you see it in your inbox" category; b) he's gearing up to run a course on Maven and is doing a teaser for it, which you can sign up for here.

...you signed up for it, yes? This newsletter will still be here after you sign up. Go sign up1.

Currently reading

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman

I think I put this on my reading list back in COVID year 1, because I thought, "hey, there was a big plague in the 14th century...maybe there are some historical lessons for our time." But the Black Death is really only one aspect of the calamity that Tuchman investigates.

I don't want to write a book review here, and I don't want to try and boil a massive book down to a few punchy thoughts. There is, however, one almost throwaway moment where she basically says, "this is where the foundation of the modern age was laid down" and then just moves right on along to get back into petty feuding between kings, emperors, and popes that lead to escalating taxes that lead to popular rebellions.

But that one thing is so interesting: it's the schism in the Catholic Church. For a period in the latter half of the 14th century, there were 2 active popes - one in Avignon supported by France and the Holy Roman Empire, one in Rome supported by England and the Italian kingdoms. This schism was an existential horror for everyone, because you accepted the miseries of your life in exchange for the possibility of salvation; your salvation was mediated by your local priest who acted under the authority of the Church, and therefore under the authority of God. If you couldn't be sure that your church was the True Church, then you couldn't be assured of salvation2. If the church couldn't assure your salvation, then why bother with the priest - the Bible was being translated into local languages, so individuals could mediate their relationship with God on their own. Yeah, this took several hundred more years - but that's where Tuchman finds the origins of the modern age.

From the archive:

Last year, while I was running the course on Smart Creative Leadership my favorite part was the interviews I did with a bunch of my favorite smart creative leaders...and I recorded them, so from time to time I'm going to drop in a quick moment of brilliance from those interviews (Shout out to Routine Chaos jack-of-all-trades Jonathan Godwin for editing these into a nice little package).

To kick it off, Nina Chen had this kind of off-the-cuff thing about the importance of the stories we tell about our teams that was something I had never articulated myself but felt the truth of it as she was talking...

One of the things I’m nearly always pondering are different articulations of learning environments…a few examples that have captivated me recently:

  • I am fascinated by the way that architects translate the different vision and values of a school into a particular learning environment, so this look at a new school building in Turkey was total catnip for me.
  • On the flip side, no new buildings needed - the way Sweden has made use of existing spaces to support all sorts of organic, interest-based learning is radical. We should do this everywhere.
  • And if I'm looking at the first two in something like awe, I'm looking at things like Squirrel with a bit of revulsion (but read to the end for the contrasting case of how we can use AI to support an entirely different educational vision)

  1. Yes, I promote basically any and everything Chidi ever does. No, Chidi doesn't pay me for this. It's just, man, I have learned a tremendous amount from the guy - both professionally and personally.

  2. There's some dark humor joking at the time about how everyone who died during that period was turned away from heaven.