This newsletter is the first in a series I will write, sharing what I'm reading and watching during the week. I may also touch on current events, though I don't have any in this week's newsletter. I'll try to show how the books, videos, and events tie in with ideas in the Bene Homini space.
In this week's newsletter, I cover two books and two videos:
- Invent & Wander by Jeff Bezos (first 91 pages)
- The STAR Interview by Misha Yurchenko (first 15%)
- 9-5 Jobs Are Great Actually
- How powerful was Tom Bombadil
Books I'm Reading
Note that I'm not giving links to the books. However, you should be able to find them at your favorite bookseller, given the title and the author I mentioned in the text.
Invent & Wander
This week, I read the first 91 pages of this book consisting of the letters Jeff Bezos wrote to Amazon shareholders through 2009. It was interesting to read the letters and contrast the approach Bezos advocated with what we see at other large tech companies like Google and Apple.
The big takeaway is that Bezos is thinking long-term with Amazon. This is why he has reinvested profits into the company rather than paying dividends to shareholders.
New initiatives are given up to seven years to start being profitable. We can contrast this with companies like Google that shut down products that aren't profitable or wildly popular in only a few years.
Bezos also explains how Amazon starts with the customer and works backward to the product. This practice contrasts with a team coming up with a "cool" idea and figuring out how to market it to customers. Apple has taken this a step further and created different classes of products that fit into a single ecosystem. Unfortunately, many of Amazon's products don't seem designed yet to work within a single ecosystem, each reinforcing the next.
This next week, I'll start with his shareholder letter from 2010. It'll be interesting to see how his outlook changes, if at all, over the remaining letters in the book. Given that he supports the Clock of the Long Now, I'd be surprised if he gave up on long-term thinking too soon.
The STAR interview
This book by Misha Yurchenko is about preparing you to tell stories during a job interview. Specifically, tackling the "behavioral interview" where companies want to find out how you might react in different situations.
I've only read through the first fifteen percent, but the book is good at drawing parallels between the STAR interview format and traditional storytelling. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.
There's a situation—a setup that represents the status quo. Then something happens. A goal or other need (the task) demands some action. Someone does something to meet the goal or satisfy the need. And finally, the story ends with some resolution or a further complication.
This model of storytelling could help engender empathy. For example, when we see someone on the street who might be asking for help, consider what their story might be. Think of a possible situation and what their goal or need might be. How might you help them accomplish that goal? And if you did help, what would be the result?
This doesn't mean we have to do everything everyone asks of us. But it does help us put ourselves in the shoes of someone else. This may be most helpful if we assume that people are rational and will make the best decision given what they know about their circumstances and options. Sometimes, we don't have to solve the problem; we need to make another option better.
YouTube Videos I've Enjoyed
How Money Works is a great YouTube channel with short, informative videos on various financial topics. In this video, he talks about how having a regular 9-5 job shields you from all the problems that can arise when owning your own business. You can put your time in and, in exchange, get paid money—reasonably low risk.
Running your own business could give you a lot more return, but it takes a lot more effort, carries a lot more risk, and at the end of the day, it's not something you can leave behind at the office as easily.
In Deep Geek publishes videos about popular fantasy series. In this episode, Robert explores the power of Tom Bombadil from The Lord of the Rings.
Tom is a mysterious figure in the book mainly because he doesn't impact the plot in any noticeable way other than saving the hobbits a time or two.
But Robert makes some observations that help me understand Tom a bit better. The following is my interpretation of what Robert says. Watch the video to see what he says if you're curious about how we might differ.
Tom was not affected by the One Ring. It didn't make him invisible when he put it on. He didn't care enough about it to notice it as different from any other ring. All rings seemed equally worthless to him, perhaps because Tom was content with what he had and didn't seek anything else. He didn't want power. He didn't want fame. He didn't want fortune. And since that's all the Ring could provide, it had no value for Tom.
My takeaway is that power corrupts the corruptible, those who seek power, fame, or fortune. If we are content with what we have, we can make better decisions because the thought of getting more power doesn't cloud our judgment.
It might be tempting to think that getting power so that we can do good would be acceptable, but Tolkien dispenses with that idea in how Galadriel, Gandalf, and other characters deal with the One Ring.
That's it for this week. Check back next week to see what I dig up over the next few days!
If you have a favorite book or video that you'd like me to see, reply to this email and let me know about it.