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Hi <<First Name>>,

 

This month’s books are an assortment; a book about luck, a book about Korean culture, and a book about time. I read each of these very recently, and I got a lot out of them — both in provoking thought and enjoyment. As the pandemic stretches out and keeps us inside our homes, we have a chance to spend more time reading. I hope you like these three as much as I do:

 

The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova

 

The Biggest Bluff explores Konnikova’s two years of learning poker, a journey she started after a spurt of bad luck. She ended up playing professionally and winning over $300,000 in big tournaments. This was a good read — it was fun lliving vicariously through her journey, and seeing how she applies these lessons to the rest of her life. I first read Konnikova’s The Confidence Game a couple of years ago, and mentioned it in the April 2018 Best of Books newsletter, and I liked this one even more:

 

Her mentor Erik Seidel, on measuring progress: Erik has been clear from the beginning: certain markers have to be met before I can move forward in my poker journey. If I’m to work with him, I can't skip steps.

 

Seidel, on learning how to lose: "When things go wrong, other people see it as unfairness that's always surrounding them," he tells me. They take it personally. They don’t know how to lose, how to learn from losing. They look for something or someone to blame. They don't step back to analyze their own decisions, their own play, where they may have gone wrong themselves. "It's a really big handicap in life to think that way. All of us can step into that sometimes, but it’s important to know the difference. It’s like that great Kipling quote: ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same…’”

 

On an open mind: Earlier that year, he says, he was talking to one of the most successful high-stakes players currently on the circuit. That player was offering a very specific opinion on how a certain hand should be played. Erik listened quietly and then told him one phrase: "Less certainty. More inquiry.”

 

On noise: Most real-world environments are what Hogarth calls “wicked": there's a mismatch between action and feedback because of external noise.

 

On thought process: “We’ve talked about this," Erik says. "You have to have a clear thought process for every single hand. What do I know? What have I seen? How will that help me make an informed judgment about this hand?"

 

On perception: A good commander never cares what others are thinking. Perception matters only insofar as you're using it strategically to shape your image for future actions.

 

On fear: "The point is, you can't play based on how it will look. Not playing scared is not the same thing as being aggressive. It means not making decisions because you’re afraid. It’s not about being passive or aggro. You can be way too aggro and still scared. And being passive can be strong."

 

The Birth of Korean Cool by Euny Hong

 

The Korean variety show, Running Man, has gotten me through this pandemic. The longevity and consistency of Running Man, which has aired every week for over a decade (over 500 episodes!), piqued my curiosity about Korean pop culture. This book was my first step into learning about it, and it was really interesting. Author Euny Hong was born in America, but moved to Korea in her youth, and serves as a bridge between both worlds. PSY and Gangnam Style were just the beginning of Korean’s pop culture taking over the world:

 

On plans: Korea has multiple five-year plans, the likes of which most democratic and capitalist countries have never seen.

 

On meritocracies: Hakwons disrupt one of the best aspects of Korean education: its meritocracy. "In Korea you can gain upward social mobility through public school education," Lee Dong-ho said. And this is why private tutoring really poses a problem: it favors families with money.

 

Kim Young-sun, team director of NIIED, on creativity: “‘We have to keep up with the demands for creativity. When people are so focused on college, lt’s a loss of human resources. Korea loses its competitive advantage.’ I think it's very telling that even in the context of encouraging creativity, Kim still frames it in terms of Korea's national competitive edge.”

 

On learning: My favorite anonymous Korean American author of the blog "Ask a Korean" puts it best: "The Korean [he refers to himself thusly, in the third person] cannot see why 'rote memorization' became a dirty word in education somehow... There are certain things about contemporary America that drive The Korean crazy, and this is one of them: The idea that the process of learning is somehow supposed to be fun. Just drop it. Forget it. What is fun is the result of learning — the infinite amount of fun when you finally put the finished product to use."

 

On food: Turning the expression "you are who you eat" on its head, Kim said, "No. You eat who you are. No one describes who you are like your food."

 

On bootstrapping pop culture: The creation of pop culture doesn’t require a massive infrastructure; all that is required is time and talent. And countries have always exported goods that no one really needs. Did nineteenth-century China need Britain's opium? Did judges in Bombay need heavy, sweaty English barrister wigs? Did Korea need Spam?

 

Faster by James Gleick

 

This book is about time, how we perceive it, and how everything feels like it’s getting faster. Changes and disruptions happen more frequently. Productivity is an entire industry, and consideration, built on time. And there’s also a rising Slow movement, including Slow Food, Slow Thought, which may serve as an alternative to the default accelerating speed of society. I really enjoyed reading this, as Gleick captures an incredibly amorphous, vague, topic and makes it compelling:

 

David Hancock, former chief of Hitachi Corporation’s portable computer division, on speed: "Speed is God, and time is the devil."

 

On people loving sound bites: When the networks reacted to criticism and tried to enforce rules against sound bites shorter than, say, thirty seconds, they found their reports growing flaccid.

 

On intelligence: "If anything," says the Yale psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, "the essence of intelligence would seem to be in knowing when to think and act quickly, and knowing when to think and act slowly."

 

On fast feedback: Soundscan has harmed the most creative side of rock and roll "because it has made information available too quickly to people who, in turn, overvalue the importance of information gotten too quickly," argues the music writer Gerry Marzorati. “Soundscan has killed off word of mouth…. It’s wham-bam: An album isn’t catching on in a week or two (as measured by Soundscan) and the plug gets pulled on promotion, the CD gets pulled from racks."

 

On tempo: Music is the art form most clearly about time. The passing seconds are its canvas and its palette.

 

On productivity: The calculus of productivity, anything per unit time, is so deeply engrained in the post-industrial world that we can barely conceive of a workplace psychology omitting it.

 

 

I hope that some of these passages unlock the hidden doors of your mind. Maybe some will serve as catalysts for change. And remember, they’re signposts. It’s up to you whether you want to apply them or not. Reply to this and let me know which quotes or books resonate with you, what you think of the newsletter, and if there’s anything I can support you with.

 

Herbert

 

Thank you for continuing to support, subscribe to, and read this newsletter. If you liked any of the quotes or books, please forward this newsletter along to a friend. 


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