Books

Books

The Prince | Niccolò Machiavelli


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Published in: 1532

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Niccolò Machiavelli was an Italian political philosopher and historian that had a key figure in shaping the political life of the Renaissance. His book “The Prince”, written in the 16th Century, is an instruction manual for new princes. The book is based on a time when cities were constantly threatened by neighboring principalities and there were continuous power struggles and change of rulers. Machiavelli’s last name has become synonymous with terrible human behavior and if one looks up the word Machiavellian in a dictionary, the description is cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous.

RATHER FEARED THAN LOVED, BUT NOT HATED. A man who wants to show his goodness in all his actions, perishes among all those who are not good. A prince who wants to stay in power must learn not to be good, and to use this or not as circumstances require. It is not necessary for a prince to be loved to keep his reign. But if he is too loved, he can be perceived as weak, and aspiring leaders might try to take him down, and more easily get the people – who are not afraid – to join them. It is better to feared and not induce any uprisings from people that are somewhat dissatisfied. However, it is of vital importance not to be hated, because then he will be surrounded by enemies ready to strike when the inevitable weak moment arises – he needs the goodwill of the people during those hard times.

“It is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

BE CONSISTENT. A prince should behave in such a way that he, whatever happens – good or bad – does not have to change his behavior towards the people. If you have to be cruel in adversity, you will not get gratitude and trust when you are friendly in good times.

IF YOU MUST DO HARM, CRUSH THEM. Men ought either to be indulged or totally destroyed, for if you merely offend them they take vengeance, but if you injure them greatly they are unable to retaliate – the injury done to a man ought to be such that vengeance cannot be feared.

HONE YOUR SKILLS IN PEACE TIME. If a prince, during peace time, thinks more of his pleasures than his army, he will lose his kingdom. War should be the only study. He should consider peace only as a breathing-time, giving him leisure to contrive, and hone his ability to execute military plans.

”The first way to lose a state is to neglect the art of war; the first way to gain a state is to be skilled in the art of war.”

BE PREPARED AND ACT PREVENTIVE. A prince must not only focus on the ongoing unrest but also on what the future holds. He must counteract them in every way, for if, as in a disease, one sees the danger far in advance, one can find a cure, but if one waits until the danger is near, medicine will not arrive in time and the disease becomes incurable.

THE DANGERS IN TOO MUCH CHANGE TOO QUICKLY. A new prince should be considerate in not initiating too much change too quickly. He will make enemies from those that took advantage of the old order, and only get lukewarm defenders in those that take advantage of the new order.

PUNISH ONCE AND STRONGLY. When a conqueror takes over a kingdom, he should carefully think through what acts of violence he is obliged to commit and then carry them all out at once, so that he does not have to start each new day with more violence. Then the people, after a while, will calm down, and get comfortable that a new peaceful order is in place. After some time they will also forgive the early acts of violence.

“Severities should be dealt out all at once, so that their suddenness may give less offense; benefits ought to be handed ought drop by drop, so that they may be relished the more.”

A LEADER NEEDS A BROAD SKILLSET. A leader must strive to be both military powerful and strategically skillful, but also develop the strength to do bold things – to dare to make mistakes of ambition rather than of sloth.

“The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.”

YOU CANNOT BE NEUTRAL. A prince is respected if he is a true friend or a true enemy. He should never be neutral, for if two of your neighboring princes go to war, you either win together with your friend and get a strong and stable outcome, or you lose together. If you are neutral, the winner will likely come after you in the future since he perceives you both as weak and as someone who can’t be trusted. And the loser, if he comes back to power, will not trust you in the next battle since you were not around for the first one. The neutral ends up a loser no matter the outcome of the battle.

AIM FOR THE SKY. A man should always embark on the paths that great men have paved and follow the men who have been outstanding personalities, so that his ability, even if it is not on a par with theirs, still produces a good outcome.

“Without an opportunity, their abilities would have been wasted, and without their abilities, the opportunity would have arisen in vain.“

THE DANGERS IN GROWING TOO FAST. A kingdom that grows too fast, like everything else in nature that arises and grows fast, may not have deep enough roots and a strong enough foundation, that the first severe adversity will not bring it to fall. Those who have unexpectedly become princes should immediately understand to make sure of what fate has thrown at them, and afterwards lay the foundation that everyone else builds up before they come to power.

Books

The Real Happy Pill | Anders Hansen


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Published in: 2016

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Imagine traveling back to 10,000 years B.C. The people you meet would speak a different language and have completely different experiences. But by and large, they would be like you. We humans, including our brains, have not changed much in 12,000 years. But our lifestyle has changed tremendously in just 100 years, even more in 12,000 years. For millions of years, our ancestors had to be on the move to obtain food and survive. The result is that we not only have a body that is built for movement, but also a brain that is. This is a book about exercise and how we have walked out of step with our biology – or rather: we sit out of step with it.

BIOLOGICAL MISMATCH. If you look at the history of mankind as a day, we were hunters and gatherers until 23:40. We became industrialized at 23:59:40 (20 seconds before twelve o’clock) and digitized, connected to the internet, 23:59:59 (one second before twelve o’clock).

NATURE VS NURTURE. Your DNA alone does not determine how your brain will develop. You have about 23,000 genes. And you have 100 billion brain cells that have about 100,000 billion connections between each other. 23,000 genes cannot determine all of these links. The brain is too complex to be completely controlled by a genetic program where it is predetermined how it will develop. The genes set a framework for how brain cells are formed and die, connect to each other and break connections. Exactly how this happens, what qualities you develop and how you function, is affected by what you been through, what environment you live in and what lifestyle you choose.

THE HPA AXIS. The body has a stress system called the HPA axis. When the brain detects something it perceives as a threat, the Hypothalamus (“H” in HPA) sends a signal to a gland in the brain, the Pituitary (“P” in HPA), which responds by releasing a hormone that travels into the bloodstream with your Adrenal glands (“A” in HPA), that responds by releasing the stress hormone cortisol which makes the heart beat faster and harder. The motor of the HPA axis is the amygdala, which is the brain’s alarm system. The amygdala activates the stress system, but can also be triggered by it. When the amygdala signals danger this leads to increased cortisol levels, which makes the amygdala even more active and increases cortisol levels even more. If the amygdala is allowed to unwind uncontrollably, you will eventually panic.

AMYGDALA ACCELERATES, HIPPOCAMPUS BRAKES. To slow down the stress system, the body and brain have several brake pedals built in. One of these is located in the memory center hippocampus, which has an ability to slow down the stress system and act as a counterweight to the stress motor amygdala. There is always a balance where they pull in different directions. When the hippocampus can no longer slow down the amygdala, the stress system begins to live its own life. Another stress brake is the frontal lobe / prefrontal cortex, a seat of “higher thinking”, which has a central role in not overreacting emotionally and acting irrationally. Here, too, a balance is created with the amygdala.

CORTISOL LEVELS MUST DECREASE. It is natural that cortisol levels increase from stress. But it is important that they decrease when the stressful situation is over. The stress hormone cortisol is almost a poison to the brain cells in the hippocampus (which can die from too much cortisol), and if there is too much for a long time (rather months and years rather than hours and days) the hippocampus risks shrinking slightly. This can make the memory worse.

EXERCISE AS MEDICINE. Exercise means stress for the body. Cortisol levels increase while running, cycling or other physical activity. But after the workout, the body does not need the same stress boost. Then cortisol levels drop to lower levels than before. If you continue to exercise regularly, cortisol will gradually increase less and less each time, and decrease more afterwards. It will also increase less and less even when you are stressed for other reasons. In fact, the frontal lobe and the hippocampus are the two parts of the brain that are most strengthened by your movement. But it is important to make exercise a habit – it takes time before the hippocampus and frontal lobe are strengthened.

GABA – ACTIVATED BY EXERCISE. GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a substance whose function is to calm the brain and dampen the activity of brain cells (when the activity is calmed, the feelings of stress disappear). GABA activation means fast and effective stress relief – just like when you drink alcohol or take sedatives. GABA is also activated by movement. You get some effect if you walk, but the best thing is to run or cycle.

EXERCISE ATTACKS STREES FROM SEVERAL ANGLES.  Stress reduces the brain’s ability to change (plasticity) while exercise increases it. Increased stress slows down the transition from short-term to long-term memories while exercise improves it. The really nice effects on well-being and stress resistance are only noticeable after a couple of months of regular training. Exercise attacks stress and anxiety from several angles. Cortisol levels drop after a workout and will not rise as sharply next time. The “brake pedals” hippocampus and frontal lobe are strengthened and become better at breaking the anxiety motor amygdala. The activity of the brain’s braking system GABA increases and the muscles’ ability to neutralize a stress substance increases. All this is happening at the same time.

EXERCISE

EXERCISE – A DOSE AGAINST STRESS AND ANXIETY. Most indications are that cardio training provides more from a stress perspective than strength training. Be active for at least 20 minutes, preferably 30-45 minutes. Make sure to get your heart rate up at least 2-3 times a week. Exercise intensily once a week, for example with interval training (has an extra good effect against anxiety).

EXERCISE – A DOSE FOR BETTER CONCENTRATION. Run instead of walk. If you move more intensely, the brain releases more dopamine and norepinephrine. You should reach 70-75% of your maximum heart rate. For concentration, it is usually better to exercise in the morning so that the effect can last during the day. You should be active for at least 20 minutes, but preferably 30 minutes to get a good effect.

THE EXERCISE – A DOSE TO FEEL BETTER. Run three times a week for 30-45 minutes each time. The intensity should be at least 70 percent of your maximum capacity. Cycling or other cardio training is as good as running. Keep this for at least six weeks.

EXERCISE – A DOSE FOR BETTER MEMORY. For memory, a walk of 30 of minutes is enough – it’s probably better than running for several hours. It is best to vary between cardio and strength training. The effects of cardio training on the hippocampus are what have been studied the most, but there seem to be effects on memory that you only, or mainly, get from strength training. Do not exert yourself too intensely, a walk or a lighter run is enough. You get the greatest effect on memory the day or days after training. Exercise regularly for several months straight.

THE TRAINING – A DOSE THAT INCREASES CREATIVITY. The best thing is to run, but also to walk has an effect. Run for at least 20-30 minutes. The effect on creativity comes afterwards and lasts for about 2 hours. Do not take yourself out completely, then creativity will be worse for several hours after training (but not in the long run). The training improves the ability to brainstorm, above all, but it can differ from person to person.

”The moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow” – Henry David Thoreau

Books

Heaton – Livet på spel | Christensen & Sunnervik


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Published in: 2018

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Emil “HeatoN” Christensen is considered one of the best Counter-Strike players of all time. His team “Ninjas in Pajamas” (NiP) dominated the global CS scene in the early 2000s. The book is about Christensen’s path from growing up in a suburb of Stockholm to ending up in esports’ “Hall of Fame”.

AS BIG AS ”REGULAR” SPORTSE-sport is the collective name for professional computer gaming where Counter-Strike (CS), Dota2 and Starcraft2 are among the largest. CS alone has over 100 million practitioners. In 2017, esports had around 250 million fans globally and in Sweden, 370,000 people watched e-sports daily.

FOCUSED REPITITIONAfter a sports injury, Christensen decided to “go all in” on CS. He set up a training schedule for how to throw grenades with the right bounce in the walls to get the perfect timing to surprise the opponents. He had three hours of training every night, with one hour per grenade (smoke, flash and explosive). To become better at melee combat, he studied the recoil on the various weapons and practiced moving the mouse in the opposite direction – that way he could shoot straight into situations where other people’s recoil made them miss.

REACHES THE TOPGradually, the game took over more and more and Christensen dropped out of high school. His life totally revolved around CS. In 2003, Christensen’s team won two world championships, the Olympics and recorded 47 straight wins. Christensen and his colleague Tommy were world stars. They sold caps and t-shirts for millions and HeatoN became the poster boy for the world’s largest manufacturer of mouse pads.

NIP INCORPORATED. After breaking with the German sponsorship organization in 2005 (they also played tournaments in their name), NiP restarted and brought in investors for the new venture. The company brought in an external CEO and rented an office of 150,000 sq.m. at Stureplan, in the central parts of Stockholm. The players received a salary of SEK 12,000 a month and taxes and social security contributions were paid – something that was not the case with the German partner. Christensen owned 46% of the shares and the rest was held by external investors.

ACQUIRED BY A LISTED COMPANY. After a period of success, the company was acquired by the listed CISL Group (paid for in shares) and Christensen’s share was worth SEK 4.6 million. Not long after that, the finance magazine Affärsvärlden wrote that the CISL Group was a house of cards, after which the share as well as the company collapsed – Affärsvärlden was right. For many years, the CISL Group had pumped up the company’s valuation through strange acquisitions and had been riding  a stock market euphoria. By 2007, the market cap of the company has reached one billion SEK, and the majority shareholders cashed out just before the stock crashed and NiP’s journey was once again over. The key people in the CISL Group were later suspected of financial fraud.

DO NOT BE CARELESS WITH THE BOOKKEEPINGLater, Christensen and a friend started another new company as a platform for the next version of NiP. Christensen took care of bookings and the team, the friend took care of the finances – it was said. The friend neglected accounting as well as reporting to SKV (The Swedish IRS) and the Swedish Companies Registration Office. Christensen and his friend, who were board members, were prosecuted for bookkeeping violations and later sentenced to a 40-day fine for negligence and 75 hours of community service for failure to comply with the bookkeeping obligation.

AGREEMENTS SHOULD BE IN WRITTEN FORM. Early in his career, Christensen collaborated with a German sports organization to develop a “HeatoN” mouse pad. Because he lent his brand, Christensen would get 1% of sales. Hundreds of thousands of mouse pads were sold, but when Christensen would later receive his money, the partner announced that they had no written agreement and that they could instead agree that he would receive 1% of all future sales – but none of the historical. Christensen had no opportunity to get “his” percentage of what had become the world’s best-selling mouse pad. He estimated that he screwed of several million swedish kronor.

BE CAREFUL WHEN CHOSING ”HELPERS”Christensen would several times in his life, both as himself, as a player, and as part of a team, be scammed on large sums by managers and various professional “helpers”, who saw a chance to earn a quick buck on the talented youngster. For a young, and in a narrow area strongly skilled person, there are great risks in older and less scrupulous people trying to take advantage of the situation.

THE E-SPORTS IS GROWINGIn 2016, the e-sports market reached record levels with total revenues of SEK 4.3 billion, an increase of 52% compared with 2015. Globally, the number of players and fans was around 300 million people. Nowadays, the sector attracts multinational companies as well as international sports clubs – Paris Saint-Germain, Schalke 04 and the Philadelphia 76ers all have their own teams in Counter-Strike.

Books

Attached | Amir Levine & Rachel Heller


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Published in: 2012

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Finding a partner to pass on our genes is often regarded as a biological necessity. It is not based on the idea that man should be picky or try to find “the right one”. This objective has emerged in today’s modern world where choices are endless. Too much pickiness can create problems, nobody is perfect. However, the authors means that there are help to get in the new science of adult attachment when it comes to find – and keep – love. This book addresses three types of relationship types; Secure, Anxious and Avoidant. In short, humans are quite rigid in their personality.

”Relationships should not be left to chance. Relationships are one of the most rewarding of human experiences, above and beyond other gifts that life has to offer”.

ATTACHED. Studies have shown that once “attached”, two people create a psychological unit. You begin to have the same blood pressure, heart rate and breathe in the same way. You know what the other person should say before he or she has said it. The Attached phenomenon is a survival mechanism – if one person in a couple became upset or are scared, the other would be in sync to help. Studies have shown that the brain reacts in the same way when a relationship ends as when we break a bone. The psychological unit has disintegrated.

SECURE. A person of the type called “Secure” feels safe with intimacy. Usually he or she are warm, loving, stable and secure in themselves. About 50% of all people in this category are characterized by the fact that they: (1) resolve conflicts fairly quickly and cleanly, (2) do not play games, (3) are comfortable with proximity, but do not demand it, (4) forgive easily and (5) treats its partner like royalty.

ANXIOUS. A person of the “anxious” type is dependent on intimacy and a very large focus is placed on the relationship. They are constantly worried that their partner will no longer love them or be unfaithful. About 20% of all people fall into this category. They often play games to try to keep their partner’s interest up.

AVOIDANT. A person of the “aviodant” type is afraid of getting too close to someone and sees intimacy as a loss of independence. They try to keep people at a reasonable distance but occasionally let their partner get close. About 25% are of this category and as a group they are usually less happy in long-term conditions. Studies have shown that a strong belief in independence is closely linked to a low convenience for intimacy, which means that they: (1) send out mixed signals, (2) desperately look for “the right one”, (3) think that their partner demands too much intimacy or are too sensitive and (4) is the personality type most often unfaithful.

MATCHING. A person who is secure can usually be with anyone, but has the most stable relationship with someone who is also secure. Anxious and Avoidant do not fit very well together but are often drawn to each other. The one who is anxious may find the avoidant a bit exciting. The one who is avoidant can quickly have needs met by someone who is extra “on” to then withdraw. The result is a game where they pull each other in different directions and when the flame goes out, the chance is small to hold together.

A RIGGED GAME. People of the type anxious and avoidant may try to find people who are secure. But despite the fact that 50% of all people are secure, most are already in long-term relationships, which means that the majority of participants in the dating market are anxious or avoidant. Unfortunately, they are attracted to each other in the short term. Both types think that the other is more exciting. Also, they usually think that those who are secure are a little too unexciting.

BE STRAIGHT FORWARD. If you want to find a long-term stable relationship and have children within three years, it may be wise to say so from the beginning. Although this may scare away a bunch of speculators, you do not have to sacrifice a few years in a relationship that could have been avoided. You should go out early with what you want and what you do not want.

HEALTH EFFECTS. Studies have shown that people in good and safe conditions have better blood and heart values – and vice versa. Just as two perfect legs and a bad leg are not enough to support a table, it does not matter how much you exercise and eat a good diet if you have something that weighs on you mentally.

“So choose wisely when you are getting involved with someone, because the stakes are high: Your happiness depends on it!”

Books

In Defense of Food | Michael Pollan


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Published in: 2009

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Eat real food. Not too much. Mainly vegetables. It is Michael Pollan’s simple answer to the question that has eluded humanity for a long time. That is how Michael Pollan begins – and summarizes – the book. Pollan is an American writer, journalist and activist. He is perhaps best known for his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” which is also about man’s relationship to food – today as well as historically.

AVOID ”HEALTHY FOODS”. If you care about your health, you should avoid foods that pretend to be healthy. A “health stamp” on a product is almost never real food – what we need to be healthy.

THE 1960S – WHEN FAT BECAME DANGEROUS. In the United States in the 1960s, academics and scientists published several studies on the dangers of fat. This led to the “low fat” wave which had the consequent effect that people instead began to consume more carbohydrates. This was also a good time for producers of manufactured food products, as they could change the recipes and sell new fat-free products with effective health advertising. Although the “low fat” hysteria has since been more or less declared incorrect, no health institutes or academics have issued any correction.

CARBOHYDRATES LEADS TO OBESITY. To avoid fat, Americans instead turned to carbohydrates. Many point out that the current obesity in the and diabetes epidemic (in the United States) gained momentum in the early 1970s when the “low fat” trend took hold in society.

STAKEHOLDERS HAVE NO INTEREST IN SOLVING “THE FOOD MYSTERY”. The food industry does not want society to agree on what is the “right way” to eat. Especially not if the healthiest food is the natural food. Food fads creates different segments and niche products with better margins than the natural foods. Nor is the journalists’ interested in seeing any comprehensive solution to the food issue – that means the end of the diet and health articles that they, given status quo, can spin into infinity. In addition, the diet industry for books and articles from scientists and academia is enormous, and every change of trend offers new business opportunities.

THE CHOICE OF DIET AFFECTS MORTALITY. Four of the ten most common causes of death are directly linked to our diet; coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer. The increase in these diseases is partly due to the fact that we live longer, but not only – adjusted for age, they have increased sharply in the parts of the world where the Western diet has been adopted, and on the contrary are relatively unusual where the people do not eat a Western diet.

WHEAT, CORN AND SOY. Historically our food has greatly varied in terms of types of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The foods has also varied based on the seasons. The western world has removed any seasonality and boiled down our diet into three ingredients; wheat, corn and soy. With these cheap ingredients an almost endless palette of food products can be manufactured at competitive prices – as another selling point, we humans are also biologically programmed to be attracted to its flavors.

THE HUMAN CAN LIVE ON MANY DIETSHistorically, it is possible to find human societies that have had diets based on high fat, low fat, high carbohydrates, only meat or just vegetables. Almost all combinations have been found in traditional diets. What they all have in common though, is that they are based on “real food” from the nature. Western diet, however, is not one that humans have historically been able to live on without severe side effects.

THE MANY SHAPES OF MANUFACTURED FOODS. For the food industry, manufactured products are the most profitable products. Depending on trends, producers of these products can choose a suitable content. If fat is seen as dangerous, margarine, cornflakes and cakes quickly become “fat free”. If a particular vitamin is particularly popular, it is quickly added to the label “now with extra vitamin D.” This means that as long as the manufactured products do not completely go out of flavor, they can just follow the trends and always be relevant.

Books

The Selfish Gene | Richard Dawkins


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Published in: 1976 / 2009

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The selfish gene theory is Darwin’s theory. But rather than focus on the individual organism, this book takes a gene’s-eye view of nature. And if you look at the way natural selection works, it seems to follow that anything that has evolved by natural selection should be selfish while we must teach generosity and altruism. This book will show how both individual selfishness and individual altruism are explained by the fundamental law called “gene selfishness”.    

THE BEGINNING. At some point a remarkable molecule was formed by accident. We call it the Replicator. It had extraordinary property of being able to create copies of itself (think of it as a mold or template). The copying process was not perfect, and mistakes happened. But erratic copying can give rise to improvement, and it was errors essential for the progressive evolution of life. DNA-molecules are modern equivalents of the first replicators.

SURVIVAL OF THE STABLE. Certain molecules, once formed, would be less likely than others to break up again. The universe is populated by stable things. A stable thing is a collection of atoms that is permanent enough or common enough. All material things – rocks, galaxies, ocean waves – are, to a greater or lesser extent, stable patterns of atoms.

COMPETITION – A NATURAL STATE. If replicator molecules of type A make copies of themselves on average once a week and type B once an hour, soon type A will be far outnumbered even if they “live” much longer. If molecules of type X and type Y last the same length of time and replicate at the same rate, but X makes a mistake on average every tenth replication while Y makes a mistake only every hundredth replication, Y will be more numerous. Any mis-copying that resulted in a new higher level of stability, or reducing the stability of rivals, was automatically preserved and multiplied. This process was cumulative. When replicators became numerous, building blocks must have been used up at such a rate that they became a scarce resource. Different replicators must have competed for them. 

SURVIVAL MACHINES IS CREATED. Replicators discovered how to protect themselves, either chemically, or by building a wall of protein around themselves (this may have been how the first living cells appeared). Replicators began to construct vehicles for their continued existence, and those that survived were the ones that built “survival machines” to live in. Survival machines got bigger and more elaborate, and the process was cumulative and progressive. They created us, the body and the mind, and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.

CLUSTERS OF GENES. All people, animals, plants, bacteria, and viruses are survival machines (for the replicator DNA). But survival machines are not just carrying one gene but many thousands. Any one chromosome in a sperm would be a patchwork of maternal genes and paternal genes. A body is a cooperative venture of such intricacy that it is almost impossible to disentangle the contribution of one gene from another. Some genes act as master genes controlling the operation of a cluster of genes. The combination of genes that is in any one individual may be short-lived, but the genes are potentially very long-lived. Their paths constantly cross and recross down the generations. The genes are not destroyed by crossing-over, they merely change partners. They are the replicators, and we are their survival machines.

A COMPLEX SURVIVAL GAME. A gene can live for a million years, but, many new genes do not even make it past their first generation. The few ones that succeed do so partly because they are lucky, but mainly because they have what it takes, and that means they are good at making survival machines. Genes are competing directly with their allies for survival, since their allies in the gene pool are rivals for their slots on the chromosomes of future generations. Any gene that behaves in such an expense of its allies will, by definition, tautologously, tend to survive.  

THE GENE MACHINE. Neurons are basically just cells, with a nucleus and chromosomes like other cells. But their cell walls are drawn out in long, thin, wire-like projections. The main way in which the brain actually contribute to the success of survival machines is by controlling and coordinating the contractions of muscles. Natural selection favored animals that became equipped with sense organs, devices which translate patterns of physical events in the outside world into the pulse code of the neurons.

DECISION-MAKING. Every decision that a survival machine takes is a gamble. It is the business of genes to program brains in advance so that on average they take decisions that pay off. The currency used in the casino of evolution is gene survival but for many purposes individual survival is a reasonable approximation. One way for genes to make predictions in unpredictable environments is to build in a capacity for learning. The program may take the form of instructions to the survival machine, such as rewarding (sweet taste, orgasm, mild temperature, smiling child), nasty (pain, nausea, empty stomach, screaming child). This programming greatly cuts down the number of detailed rules that have to be built into the original program, and is capable of coping with changes in the environment.

SIMULATION. No simulation can predict exactly what will happen. But a good simulation is preferable to blind trial-and-error. You imagine what would happen if you did each of the alternatives open to you. You set up a model in your head of the restricted set of entities which you think may be relevant that will be used to predict possible events. Survival machines that can simulate the future are one jump ahead of survival machines that can only learn on overt trial and error. Trial-and-error takes time and energy and is often fatal. Simulation is both safer and faster. The evolution of the capacity to simulate seems to have culminated in subjective consciousness.

OUTSOURCING RESPONSIBILITIES. Genes are the primary policy-makers, brains are the executives. But as brains became more developed, it took over more and more of the actual policy decisions, using tricks like learning and simulation. The logical conclusion to this trend, not yet reached in many species, would be for the genes to give the survival machine a single overall policy instruction: do whatever you think best to keep us alive.

EVOLUTIONARY STABLE SYSTEMS. A strategy is a pre-programmed behavioral policy. An example of a strategy is: “Attack opponent, if he flees pursue him, if he retaliates run away”. An evolutionary stabile strategy or ESS is a strategy which in most members of a population adopt it cannot be bettered by an alternative strategy. The best strategy for an individual depends on what most of the population is doing. Since the rest of the population consists of individuals, each one trying to maximize his own success, the only strategy that persists will be the one which, once evolved, cannot be bettered by any deviant individual. Following a major environmental change there may be a brief period of evolutionary instability. But once an ESS is achieved it will stay: selection will penalize deviation from it.

HUMAN ESS. The trouble with conspiracies, even those that are to everybody’s advantage in the long run, is that they are open to abuse. The conspiracy is often bound to be broken by treachery from within. An ESS is stable, not because it is particularly good for the individuals participating in it, but because it is immune to treachery from within. It is possible for humans to enter into pacts or conspiracies that are to every individual’s advantage, even if these are not stable in the ESS sense. But this is only because every individual uses conscious foresight and is able to see that it is in his own long-term interest to obey the rules of the pact.

TIT-TOR-DOUBLE TAT. A winning strategy is tit-for-tat which begins by cooperating on the first move and thereafter copies the previous move of the other player. Tit for two tats allows its opponent two defections in a row before it eventually retaliates. This might seem excessively saint, but it has won game theory tournaments. This is because it avoids runs of mutual recrimination. There are two characteristics of winning strategies: niceness and forgiveness. Tit-for-tat seems as an ESS, but it is in the stricter sense not so. To be an ESS, a strategy must not be invadable by a rare mutant strategy. Tit-for-tat cannot be invaded by any nasty strategy but another nice strategy.

MEMES: THE NEW REPLICATORS. Memes are the culture equivalent of genes, i.e. replicators. Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashion, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. It spreads from brain to brain. Imitation, in the broad sense, is how memes can replicate. But just as not all genes that can replicate do so successfully, so some memes are more successful in the meme-pool than others. This is the analogue of natural selection. Some memes, like some genes, achieve brilliant short-term success in spreading rapidly, but do not last in the meme pool.  

Books

Social | Matthew Lieberman


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Published in: 2013

Amazon | Goodreads

The book is written by the American professor Matthew Lieberman and is based on the latest in neuroscience. The main thesis is that our brains are socially programmed – our main goal is to “connect” with other people. It is even more important than our own interests. Lieberman sees shortcomings in Maslow’s ladder of needs and does not believe that social well-being is at the ‘icing on the cake’ level – it is as important as food and shelter.   

“If we keep eyes open for it, we will see plenty of behaviors that we can’t quite square with self-interest as the sole motivator in our lives. We have failed to understand them because we have failed to fully understand what kind of beings we are”

DEFAULT MODE = SOCIAL. When we are not actively involved in something, our thought activity enters a social default state. Then we almost always think of ourselves, of other people or how we interact with them. The explanation for this is in human evolution. The human brain reached its present size about 200,000 years ago. Being socially inclined was vital for survival and reproduction. Evolution has thus programmed us to be social.

“To the extent that we can characterize evolution as designing our modern brains, this is what our brains were wired for: reaching out to and interacting with others. These social adaptations are central to making us the most successful species on earth.”

WE ARE NOT CREATED TO ”FIND OURSELVES”. During human history, a life has been divided into three phases; first we are children and are taken care of, then we become adults and take care of and finally we become old and again are taken care of. Historically, there have been no gaps between the phases. But in today’s society, we have a time period of 5-20 years where we only focus on ourselves – “soul searching” or “finding oneself”. However, this is not something we are programmed to be able to do and thus are not very successful with.

SOCIAL PAIN = PHYSICAL PAIN. Lieberman has together with research colleagues studied how we are affected by social pain. With MRI scans, they have been able to compare how our brain is affected by social and physical pain. The result was that we can feel as bad about being alone or going through a divorce as we can about breaking a leg. Our brain processes social pain in the same way it processes physical pain. Mother Theresa, who witnessed people in the worst possible life circumstances, said that “a life without other people is the worst disease any human being can ever experience”.

We don’t expect someone with a broken leg to “just get over it”. And yet when it comes to the pain of social loss, this is a common response.”

SOCIAL INVESTMENTS. Lieberman believes that one of the easiest things we can do to improve our lives is to strengthen our social relationships. It is both cheap, easy and nice. All we need to do is set aside a little more time for that. Time that we get back many times over in the form of increased well-being and higher productivity at work. Studies have shown that a person with a good social life but who is a heavy smoker is happier than a single person in top health. For well-being, it is better to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day than to be alone.

MORE SOCIAL = MORE CLEAR-MINDED. The more weight we give to our social lives, the higher our quality of life will be. And with a higher quality of life comes more clarity. By secreting a lot of dopamine in our relaxed “default mode”, we increase the efficiency of our prefrontal cortex during working hours.

STRONG DISCIPLINE = A GOOD LIFE. Good self-control is a strong cornerstone for a good life. Those with good self-control usually have higher incomes, higher credit scores, better health and a better social life. This has to do with how they interact with the world around them. When we are stressed about something external, it is not the thing itself that stresses us, but how we choose to let it affect us. If you can control yourself how you face adversity, you are well on your way to a satisfied life. The Japanese author Haruki Murakami has summed it up in “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. ”

Books

How to avoid a climate disaster | Bill Gates


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Published in: 2021

Amazon Goodreads

In this book, Bill Gates tries to decipher the complex connections to explain what research says about the climate issue. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased dramatically since the 1850s due to human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels. We have already raised the temperature by at least 1 degree celsius since the industrial age, and if we do not reduce emissions, it will probably be between 1.5 and 3 degrees warmer in 2050 and between 4 and 8 degrees warmer by 2100. This book is about what it takes to stop this and why we can do it.

FROM 51 BILLION TO ZERO. 51 billion is the number of tonnes of greenhouse gases that the world emits into the atmosphere on average each year. The figure may vary slightly from year to year, but in general it is increasing. Zero is what we must strive for. To stop warming and avoid the worst effects of climate change – and they become very unpleasant – we must stop releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. To avoid a climate catastrophe, we must (1) bring down emissions to zero, (2) use all the resources we have – such as sun and wind – in a faster and smarter way, and (3) we must develop and apply all technological breakthroughs that can take us the rest of the way.

WHY ZERO? Because the greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for so long, the planet stays warm long after we have reached zero. About one-fifth of the carbon dioxide emitted today will remain in 10,000 years. There is no scenario where the world stops getting warmer if we continue to increase the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the hotter it gets, the harder it will be for humans to survive – even less feel good. We do not know exactly how much damage will be caused by a certain temperature rise, but we have every reason to worry.

HOW MUCH GREENHOUSE GAS IS RELEASED BY CATEGORY. Manufacturing (cement, steel, plastic) accounts for 31% of emissions. Energy production accounts for 27%. Agriculture / cultivation (plants and animals) accounts for 19%. Transport (aircraft, trucks, cargo ships) accounts for 16%. Heating and cooling account for 7%. Some things, like electricity and cars, get a lot of attention. Passenger cars account for 47% of all emissions from the transport sector (garbage trucks, buses and trucks 30%, cargo cruise ships 10%, aircraft 10% and the other 3%), which in turn is 16% of the world’s total emissions. These are important, but improvement needs to happen everywhere.

A BALANCING ACT. The world is emitting less greenhouse gases this year [2020] than last year because economic activity has slowed down so sharply due to Covid-19. The decline in 2020 will probably be somewhere around 5%. In real terms, this means that we emit between 48 and 49 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases instead of 51 billion. This small decrease in emissions proves that we cannot reach zero simply by not flying and driving as much as before. We have with Covid now seen the high societal cost – deaths, unemployment, mental health, etc – of putting the world on paus. In addition, there is the perspective that the world must produce more energy so that the poorest can get better. We must produce energy without emitting more greenhouse gases – it must be clean energy.

POPULATION GROWTH. The world’s population will be approaching 10 billion at the end of the century. By 2060, the world’s building stock will have doubled. It’s like building a new New York every month for 40 years, and that’s mainly due to the growth in developing countries like China, India and Nigeria. What happens when more people live as the richest 16 percent do today? Global energy demand will have risen by 50 percent by 2050, and if nothing else changes, emissions will rise almost as much. It will not be easy to get electricity from all over the world from clean sources. Today, fossil fuels account for two-thirds of all electricity generated worldwide (Coal 36%, natural gas 23%, hydropower 16%, nuclear power 10%, renewable 11%, oil 3% and other 1%). Today, the United States spends only 2% of its GDP on electricity. The main reason is that fossil fuels are cheap.

ELECTRICITY AND DENSITY. As the numbers get high quickly, it is convenient to use abbreviations. One kilowatt is 1,000 watts, one megawatt is 1 million and one gigawatt is 1 billion. In the world, 3,000 gigawatts are consumed, in the United States 500 gigawatts, in a medium-sized American city 1 gigawatt, in a small town 1 megawatt and in an average American home 1 kilowatt. An important factor is energy density. Different energy sources can generate different amounts per square meter: fossil fuels (500-10,000 watts per square meter), nuclear power (500-1000), solar energy (5-20), hydropower – dams (5-50), wind (1-2) and firewood and other biomass (less than 1).

ENERGY TRANSITION TAKES TIME. The wind does not always blow, and the sun does not always shine, and we do not have cheap batteries that can store energy long enough for large cities. Many have heard of Moore’s law, Gordon Moore’s prediction in 1965 that the capacity of microprocessors would double every two years. He was right. But computer chips are something in themselves. The solar panels, for example, have not become a million times better. When crystalline silicone solar cells were introduced in the 1970s, they converted c.15% of sunlight into electricity. Today, they convert c.25%. It’s good but far from Moore’s team.

ENERGY STORAGE. Solar power costs about 5 cents per kilowatt hour. The price for the electricity from this if we were to store overnight is three times higher than what we pay during the day: 5 cents to generate and 10 cents to store, a total of 15 cents. There are researchers who believe they can manufacture a battery with 5x longer life. They have not done so yet, but if they are right, it would push down the extra cost from 10 to 2 cents. Nothing can be more important than taking advantage of today’s renewable energy sources and improving transmission.

LITHIUM BATTERIES. Lithium-ion batteries – despite their limitations – are the best we can hope for. Researchers have studied all the metals that we could use in batteries, and it seems unlikely that there are materials that could provide better batteries than the ones we already design. Gates thinks we can improve them by a factor of 3x but not by a factor of 50x. The larger the vehicle to be moved and the longer it is to be driven without charging, the more difficult it will be to have electricity as an energy source. Unless an unlikely breakthrough occurs, batteries will never be so light and powerful that they can move aircraft and ships more than short distances. In addition, the production of electricity accounts for only 27% of all emissions. Even if we had a huge breakthrough in batteries, we would still have to get rid of the other 73%.

ELECTRIC VEHICLES – THE POSTER CHILD. The price difference between electric cars and petrol-powered cars has shrunk dramatically in recent years. This is largely due to the fact that batteries have become much cheaper – a reduction of 87% since 2010 – and also to various tax breaks and government measures to ensure that there are more emission-free cars on the roads. In some countries in Europe, petrol prices are so high that the green additional cost of electric cars has already come down to zero. As battery prices continue to fall, Gates predict that the additional cost of most cars in the US will also be zero by 2030. With so many electric buses sold In China, Gates believes that the green additional cost of buses will be reduced to zero within 10 years, which means that most major cities in the world can switch to electricity.

THE COST MAKES INVESTMENTS WORTH IT. Recent models show that the cost of climate change in 2030 is likely to be between 0.85 and 1.5 percent of US GDP per year. Current estimates of the cost of Covid-19 in the United States this year vary between 7-10 percent of GDP. Assuming a similar disturbance occurs once every ten years, it means an average annual cost of 0.7 to 1 percent of GDP, roughly equivalent to the damage that climate change is expected to cause.

Books

Never Eat Alone | Keith Ferrazzi


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Published in: 2014

Amazon | Goodreads

Keith Ferrazzi believes that the most valuable currency is social capital – defined information, expertise, trust and other value that exists in our relationships. Success in life is the people you meet and what you create together. “Networking” does not create magic – it is maximizing generosity and then letting your social seeds that you have planted grow. For example, a study of MBA students found no correlation between high grades and a successful life. However, they found a strong correlation between social skills and a successful life. The more successful someone is at using language – both speaking and writing – the greater the chances.

MENTORSStudies have shown that those we associate with have a major impact on our lives. At every step of his career, Ferrazzi has looked for successful people to ask for help and guidance. You should not be afraid to ask stupid questions. It is important to be able to ask for help but also to dare to take help.

TANGIBLE AND INTANGIBLE ASSETS. We should be open to working for free if required. Many entrepreneurs work “for free” for a while and then reap the rewards afterwards. It is more important to build up assets than to strive for a high income. An asset can, for example, be shares in a company or ownership of a property – these are tangible. But knowledge and contacts are also assets. However, these the returns from these assets are more unclear. You build the strongest base for success if you have both a lot of tangible as well as intangible assets.

”In your twenties you learn, in your thirties you earn”.

FREE AGENTS. People no longer get a job when they are 20 and have it for the rest of their lives. Today, everyone is a “free agent” and the social currency is very valuable for free agents. We are all “Me Inc.” and, according to Ferrazzi, must nurture our brands and constantly work with them. We do this by focusing on what we can do that creates value for others.

WEAK TIES AND STRONG TIES. “Weak ties ”are often more valuable than“ strong ties”. Those closest to each other within an area know what they can do for each other. It is the “weak ties” that can surprise us with interesting life changes.

A GOAL IS A DREAM WITH A DEADLINE. Almost every successful person Ferrazzi knows is good at setting goals. When goal setting is a part of our lives, the ball is rolling. To find out what you yourself are good at, Ferrazzi thinks you should ask your surroundings. They often know you very well. The goals must also be written down.

BUILD RELATIONS LIKE BILL CLINTON. Bill Clinton basically knew everyone he met, not just names but also their interests. Before he meets new people, he does a quick research on what they are for people, what they have for businesses, what they are proud of, what they have for problems, etc. In this way, he creates strong relationships.

CAREER KARMA. Ferrazzi writes “You can be more successful in two months by becoming really interested in other people’s success than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in your own success”. If you help someone with health, their children or their financial life, this is something that will be remembered for a very long time.

FEEDBACK. After a nice meeting, you should get in touch and give feedback (a follow-up takes place best 12-24 hours after you have met someone). Good follow-ups alone elevates you above 95% of your peers. Ferrazzi talks about the process of “pinging” – sending out a quick contact signal to your acquaintances. A relationship is like a fire that you sometimes need to refill with new wood. Get in touch on birthdays or if something else special happens.

VULNERABILITY. At a dinner with new friends, Ferrazzi and his girlfriend had just broke up so he was a bit absent. It was stiff at the table. He apologized for being a little off and told his story. Everyone’s attention increased and there was a deep and rewarding discussion. Everyone told about similar situations they had been in. He showed weakness and the situation changed completely. He noticed that a good icebreaker is to tell something personal from the heart. People feel chosen when they hear something like this which creates strong bonds: “vulnerability is one of the most underappreciated assets in business today”.

Books

Hidden Champions | Hermann Simon


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Published in: 2009

Amazon Goodreads

Professor Hermann Simon coined the term “hidden champions” almost thirty years ago. The key criterias for a Hidden Champion are: (1) #1-3 on the global market or # 1 on the continent, (2) revenue does not exceed $4bn and (3) the company has a low level of public awareness. There are about 2,700 “hidden champions” around the world and around half of them are German. Nevertheless, they often have global market shares of over 50%.

UNKNOWN TO BROADER MASSAccording to Simon, many extremely successful companies escape the attention of those whose business it is to know everything (media), understand everything (scientists) or improve everything (consultants). But within their own industries, they are known, admired or even feared.

NICHE PLAYERS. Hidden Champions often focuses on narrow markets, sometimes a product / market. They sometimes have monopolistic positions, thereby creating effective barriers to entry. It is not easy for other companies to imitate the super niche or market leader. Hidden Champions mostly works with an integrated value chain along with a limited definition of relevant markets.

GLOBALISATION. Because Hidden Champions offers unique products in small niche markets, they are often in great need of going abroad early in the company’s development. Globalization is the dominant driver for growth. Also, the global perspective often shows unplanned opportunities for growth. Globalization is a long-term process that requires perseverance. When a company is established and operates smoothly on a global scale, this situation often appears quite natural, as if it has always been so.

MUST HAVE PRODUCT DIFFERENTIATIONThe special status of the product must be sustainable. Copies and establishments of similar products must be prevented at all costs. Various instruments for maintaining the product’s unique position are patent protection, a powerful trademark or logo, intensive relationships and acquaintance with customers and fine design with frequent updates. Hidden Champions are unknown to the public, but the brand often has a strong and unique position with the ecosystem.

GOOD CUSTOMER RELATIONS. Hidden champions have a very close relationship to their most demanding customers. They open up their organization in such a way that many of their employees have direct customer contact. By doing this, they can use their top customers to drive innovation. It’s in tackling the problems of their most demanding customers that they source their next generation of innovations.

INNOVATIONSimon’s case studies show that there is no single driver of growth, but that globalization and innovation are key. A hidden champion will on average spend 6% of its revenue on R&D (ca 2x the average level). That is a long-term mindset. Not only that, but they also produce more patents per thousand people and they do it far cheaper than corporates. This innovation is core to growth because you can only lead the market if you’re willing to invest and keep changing your offering to match customers’ needs.

”SOFT” DIVERSIFICATIONSome diversified companies’ portfolios consist of none or few Hidden Champions. Other companies have many Hidden Champions in their portfolio. To deal with the dilemma super-niche companies are often faced with in terms of growth, “soft” diversification is an option. However, they must strive to maintain their traditional strengths. There is always a danger that the new business will be too distracting and that the core business will be neglected. “Soft” diversification means that the new products stay close to the traditional business (for example, bait to fish products).

ACQUISITIONS. Regarding acquisitions, Simon has some examples in the book (eg Wirtgen, Claas and Leitz) of Hidden Champions that have achieved success with the help of acquisitions. However, this increases the risk that the underlying forces that make the company a Hidden Champion may be lost.

RETAIN TOP TALENT. Most hidden champions do an outstanding job at holding onto their leaders and top employees. The hidden champions’ founding leaders may be no smarter than you and I, but they are more obsessed by their ideas, and their absolute commitment to their mission makes them unbeatable.