David and Goliath, Gladwell and Jones – @HardenKurt

The power of perspective.

Here’s Malcolm Gladwell explaining the story of David and Goliath, based on historic fact.

It’s not what you might think. I’m not sure I agree wholeheartedly with the deconstruction but it speaks volumes to the power of our perspective to change our thinking.

For some reason, it reminded me of this classic Indiana Jones scene:

Hat tip to Kurt at Cultural Offering.

Marcus Aurelius – hero of the Sovereign Professional

Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121 – 180), philosopher-king and last of the “Five Good Emperors“, is best remembered today for his Meditations.

Meditations was probably never intended to be published. It consists of Marcus Aurelius’s private thoughts and reflections. Today, it’s regarded as a classic of Stoic thinking.

But, what does that mean for the Sovereign Professional?

I would argue that stoicism provides a solid philosophy that is wholly relevant to the inevitable turmoil of individual toil.

The Daily Stoic site offers this definition of stoicism:

The philosophy asserts that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment be based on behavior, rather than words. That we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.

That second sentence is key. We “cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.”

If you want to be sovereign, you recognise that your fate is in your own hands. Equally, you are no self-pitying victim. You don’t control external events, but you certainly control your response.

Marcus Aurelius, no passive, other-worldly sage in rags is a perfect role model. He was the most important and most powerful person in the known world. When he became emperor, Rome (as Republic and Empire) had stood for over 600 years. Sometimes, we talk of Ancient Rome like we do Victorian Britain or Soviet Russia; we forget it lasted a thousand years (in the west, and a further millennium, to 1453, in the east). Meditations tells us that Aurelius was a practising Stoic. His notes are not original philosophy. They are reflections and reminders, notes-to-self and admonitions. Indeed, the historian Mary Beard argues:

If a text like this were to be discovered today in the sands of Egypt, not tied to the name of an emperor, we would almost certainly interpret it as a set of fairly routine philosophical exercises – the kind of thing that a philosophically trained member of the Roman elite would compose to keep himself in good intellectual shape.

Meditations is Aurelius’ workbook, not his textbook. That’s where the value lies: practical philosophy for real life. Remarkably relevant and contemporary, despite being 1,800 years old.

Aurelius is a hero because he was a practitioner.

The Daily Stoic has a biography, here.

The Wikipedia article is here.




My own copies of Meditations have been the Penguin Great Ideas edition of a 1964 translation by Maxwell Staniforth, but I’m very tempted to try the recent Gregory Hays translation, as recommended, here.


Affluence without Abundance

The Economist reviews a new book: Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen, by James Suzman.

The book is more than an ethno-biography of the Bushmen, it explores an alternative view of life and a possible path for human development. As the Economist puts it:

Farming teaches people to accept inequality and to valorise work. But for the vast majority of human history there was little point in accumulating, since most of what was needed could easily be got from the surrounding environment. Nor was there anything heroic about work; spending time getting more food than one could eat was a foolish waste.

it also concludes:

Having created countless problems by turning to agriculture, rich societies have little choice but to press on: working, striving and inventing, even as this progress creates more problems in need of solving.

It definitely sounds worth a read.

It reminds me, in its description of the pre-agricultural life, of Richard Donkin’s excellent book The History of Work.

Songs for Sovereign Professionals: Maggie’s Farm

This song has been hijacked so many times, not least by the UK’s loony left, protesting against Margaret Thatcher. Wikipedia will tell you it’s a protest against protest folk songs.

Take the song at face value: as a protest against wage-slavery and a call for the freedom of sovereign professionalism.

There are numerous recordings of this. I love the original, from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home, but the version from 1979’s Bob Dylan At Budokan is perhaps my favourite.

Here’s the infamous Newport Folk Festival:

And the original album, 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home:

(This post originally appeared on the Burning Pine site)


Rebooting the Conservatives? – @RuthDavidsonMSP

There are some great points in this essay from Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

I’m not sure if I agree with absolutely everything, but she is eloquent on the case for free-market,liberal democracy:

Extreme poverty is being routed. Infant mortality has halved. Literacy rates are climbing. After two centuries of increasing global inequality, developing world growth has reversed the trend. In short, the world is a richer, healthier, better educated and more equal place than at any time in my lifetime.

And, she makes a compelling plea for our government to get its act together and start leading:

It is not enough for government to facilitate a discussion about where next for Britain, it has to actually lead.

Definitely worth a read and a ponder.

Here’s Wikipedia’s article on Davidson.

Image: Getty

My bag for all seasons – @Buffalo_Jackson

Choosing the perfect bag for work is a no easy task. Unless you want to manage a fleet of bags and cases for every occasion, you need to find that elusive bag for all seasons.

Personally, I’d relied for much too long on the sheer convenience of my Timberland back-pack. It was well-padded, had pockets and places for just about everything and seemed to be indestructible. On top of that, after a few years’  constant use, it had developed its own little ecosystem of “essential stuff”: memory sticks, iPhone cables, hotel pens, painkillers, business cards, you name it.

But, it didn’t really support a professional image. It worked in the more casual, everyday setting of my mostly tech-industry clients, but in a boardroom, suit-wearing scenario, it just didn’t cut it.

I wanted a good quality, last-for-ever leather case that would develop its own patina with age. However, a highly-burnished Italian leather attache case would be overkill for less formal environments.

Also, I found that I really, really, really hated fake buckles. What is the point of putting a pointless buckle on the front and hiding a spring-clip behind it? If you don’t believe in buckles, at least have the courage of your convictions. It transpired that finding real, working buckles is a challenge. And, along the way, I learned a lot about the grading of leather and the weasel words sellers use to distract.

Eventually though, I found what I wanted in the US with this Dark Walnut, Denver Briefcase from Buffalo Jackson:

Denver Leather Briefcase – Dark Walnut from Buffalo Jackson (Image: Buffalo Jackson)

It’s constructed in thick, top-grain leather with sturdy, real, working buckles. It’s spacious with a good mix of versatile spaces and pockets for the vital small stuff.

Now, after 10 months’ use, it’s settled into a working routine. The front right pocket is home to my Moleskine and Lamy fountain pen, while the inside holds all the usual project papers,spare pens, iPads, recorders, water bottles and so on.

My 13″ laptop felt a bit loose inside, but I solved that with one of these fantastic sleeves from Lihit Lab, which adds a bit of extra padding, along with extra pockets.

My verdict: this is a great case to straddle from boardroom to skunk-works, with plenty of stop-offs for coffee along the way. It’s sturdy and versatile, it works well well with suit or jeans, and collects admiring comments as a bonus.