One of history’s Iron laws: luxuries become necessities and spawn new obligations …

  • First they are taken for granted,
  • Then they are counted upon, and finally
  • They can’t be lived without

Agricultural revolution

Hunter gatherers were trapped into lifestyle of agriculture. It was wheat that domesticated us. This was a much harder life for most but it did allow for larger communities to thrive.

Individuals -> communities: Required a system of beliefs, faith to bind increasingly large groups of people and enough food, water, clothing, shelter to support them.

Social hierarchies formed ⬅️ I guess they were always there … Even hunter gatherer societies would have had some sort of pecking order or natural grouping ⬅️ not everyone was a hunter

Life as a farmer was hard compared to foraging and hunting. Long hours in the field doing work humans weren’t really well adapted to.

Large stable food supply meant more births which ultimately made going back to pre agrarian untenable

Memory, writing, numbers, math, justice, interesting history

Different classes of people with different social norms and societal expectations. Hammurabi created a society with 3 classes:

  • superiors
  • commoners
  • slaves

Other examples ⬅️ blacks whites, rich poor

Not necessarily based on individual achievement … Often we’re born into the group we will spend our entire lives in

3 unifying forces in human history: money, steel, imperialism


Suffering caused by behaviour patterns of ones own mind ⬅️ Buddhism

Buddhism: Craving begets dissatisfaction. In happy times we worry about losing what we have or want even more. During sad times we worry about how to make things better, fleeing from grief and anguish. Can we accept things as they are without craving? Then we can be happy sad without negative aspects of craving…

Buddhism: Nirvana ⬅️ extinguishing the fire ⬅️ literal translation

Scientific revolution

1500ad started something unprecedented in human history -> humanity embraced its own ignorance. We used to ask somebody wiser and ignore “unimportant” facts

If you went to sleep in 1000ad and woke up in 1500, you’d see some change but you’d be probably be not completely out of sorts. If you did the same in 1500 and woke in 2000 you’d have no idea where you’d woken up… Heaven !!

Science and capitalism

The Little Book of Talent

41nax7wbshl-_sy346_Interested in methods of skill / talent acquisition that create maximal growth opportunities in any one session.

It is not true that people who demonstrate early, prodigy-like or who appear to perform a task with ease turn into world class performers of said skill. Much more powerful is consistent, daily work towards a goal by practicing in ways that promote deeper learning.

3 Phases

At a high level, developing talent involves tending to these 3 concerns…

  • Getting started: first steps down what’s usually a long road
  • Improving skill: strategies and techniques to develop a skill, getting maximum benefit out of practice
  • Sustainable improvement: moving past the plateau, continually improving, ?

Getting Started

  • Who’s in your windshield? Find people who are excellent at doing whatever it is you want to and follow them. Fill up your field of view with the things they do and think are important
  • Find the right coach: Lots of advice here… somebody who is strong willed – terrifying? :), is details oriented <- if you have a problem shouldn’t say “we’ll fix that later…”, can help you develop your practice to hit your sweet spot
  • Hard or soft? He makes a distinction between skills that should be performed in one true way for optimal experience (eg swinging a tennis racket) vs skills that require flash creative problem solving and pattern matching (eg his example is a skateboarder who is sometimes aggressive sometimes not making snap decisions about how or what way to move next)… it’s about quickly assessing a situation, making a decision and taking action

Improvement Techniques

Under-reaching, __the “sweet spot”__, over-reaching: be careful about practice that’s too easy or too hard. Neither really benefits you like working in the right zone does. You want the right activity at the right level of difficulty (Think Goldilocks and the Three Bears)

Think in terms of __R.E.P.S.__ when designing practice sessions. Reach + repeat, immerse, purpose, fast + strong feedback. Think in terms of the skill you want to build and decide if your practice is:

  • Keeping in the “sweet spot”
  • How engaged – focused, attentive? – are you right now?
  • Does this practice relate directly to the skill you’re trying to build
  • How quickly are you able to see whether you did good?


  • stare: at the people you want to be more like. These are people who’ve mastered the skills you’re looking to acquire. How did they get there? <- past, What are they doing now? <- present, future
  • steal: borrow ideas, techniques, plans or anything else that can be used to advance you towards your goal. Everybody does. Some of things we do will be new and require lots of energy, some won’t
  • 15 minutes a day is better than 2 hours once a week
  • chunks: break down the bigger thing you’re trying to achieve in small, digestive chunks and practice
  • don’t be afraid to make mistakes: these really are great experiences to be learned from
  • slow down: some of the practice I do could be done at a snails pace. The idea being this gives me a chance to observe in great detail every aspect of what it is I’m doing hyper critically
  • !! don’t practice when you’re tired !!: it just doesn’t work… frustration, mistakes, you’re not able to as effectively focus, etc

Sustained Growth

  • be a teacher: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” – Albert Einstein
  • shift when stuck: at some level of proficiency your brain switches to automatic mode – doing a thing the way you always have without conscious thought – which is the killer of growth. Try to change the way you practice. eg Daniel got better playing ping pong by raising half his table and playing solo. The games were much faster as a result forcing him to get better. Two strategies for shifting: go faster and develop reaction time, observational skills, etc or go slower and be hyper critical of what you’re doing
  • 8 weeks: how long it takes for a skill to sink in to some reasonable level of proficiency
  • 5 to 1: for every 1 hour of competitive play time, you should have practiced at least 5 (The author suggests 10:1 might be even better)
  • don’t break habits build new ones: habits are really hard to break but are apparently replaceable… work on new behaviours instead of framing things as trying to break old
  • embrace repetition: don’t expect to be any good at something you haven’t done over and over and over again

On Being a Better Coach

The best coaching involves short, deeply relevant information tailored to an individual to help them succeed at the practice they’re doing RIGHT NOW!

  • make an emotional connection
  • provide tiny, locally relevant chunks of information to help the current reach
  • be specific … NO lift the racquet higher … YES hold the racquet beside your ears
  • learning scorecard: find a metric to track that doesn’t relate to competition. Find the key performance indicator for the skill you’re developing and track it (eg Zappos didn’t track customers helped per hour, they tracked number of times a customer experienced a WOW moment)
  • create environments where learners are reaching safely in their sweet spot
  • create independent learners: step away from people so they can learn on their own

Deep practice is what you’re doing when you work in and around your sweet spot. Constantly reaching in controlled ways. Attentive repetition

The Magic of Reality

There were so many great ideas. My favourite hig9khlights include descriptions of crucial experiments and experimental results and, on occassion, what I thought were particularly clear, concise treatments of concepts that I’ve either struggled with before or just found incredibly interesting.

Newton’s discovery of the nature of white light, the spectrum and everything that followed was particularly great. I remember learning about his experiments in high school but I don’t especially remember being in awe of them like I was this time. The fact that Newton is responsible for so much of our foundational understanding around how the universe works is incredible to me. I am properly humbled this time ’round. 🙂

Resolution – I have a very modest background in computer graphics from a semester or two of study at university. Dawkins’s definition: At higher resolutions, 2 points can be very near each other and yet still be distinguishable as 2 distinct points. Brilliant.

Towards the end of the book vaccination in the context of our immune systems is discussed. The idea of exposing our bodies to controlled amounts of a harmful virus or pathogen – dead or alive – in order to build immunities against well understood, dangerous but perfectly treatable conditions is fascinating. (Also in this little corner of the book I found a footnote about how our immune systems can sometimes overreact to foreign things in ways that create what we collectively think of as allergic reactions. Highly relevant to me personally sadly.)