What I learned last week (#100)

Learned last week: The joys of being a generalist, the history of the kettlebell, the problem with personal productivity, and more!

Quote I was thinking about:

The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us.

Mary Oliver

Book excerpt that I enjoyed:

“Sometimes I think I became a better teacher and critic because I had to be detailed and systematic in my own learning. Someone once pointed out to me that the best NBA coaches—people such as Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich—weren’t the most gifted players. When I was a youngster, I saw both Riley and Jackson play, and I can attest that they spent most of the game on the bench. But the very fact that they had to fight for playing time, and work more tenaciously than their colleagues, gave them hard-earned insights that the natural-born geniuses never have to worry about. I feel the same about my own development as a musician. I learned slowly and carefully, and when (as I will often do in this book) I call attention to the ways an amateurish musician falls short, rest assured that I make this comparison with sympathy and a dose of self-recognition.” (Ted Gioia, How to Listen to Jazz)


A short history of the kettlebell:

I bought some kettlebells a couple of years ago, as well as a copy of Pavel Tsatsouline’s book, Kettlebell Simple & Sinister. Neither the book nor the kettlebells made it with me out to Scotland but they are on my list to get again. Surprisingly great read on the history of fitness and the kettlebell.

The kettlebell’s modern popularity begins in 1998, when Belarusian fitness guru Pavel Tsatsouline entered the American fitness landscape on a mission to bring the gospel of the kettlebell to the West. After publishing an article in a weightlifting trade magazine entitled “Vodka, Pickle Juice, Kettlebell Lifting and Other Russian Pastimes,” Pavel (a first-name-only kind of guy) would go on to develop training videos, programs, and best-selling books, including Power to the People!: Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American, The Naked Warrior, and Enter the Kettlebell!: Strength Secret of the Soviet Supermen. In 2001, he was profiled in various media as “the evil Russian” and named the year’s “Hot Trainer” by , appearing in a photo spread with a kettlebell thrust overhead.

Pavel’s brand was all campy Soviet brutality. In one training video, he announces himself with a thickly accented bark: “Comrade! The kettlebell has been instrumental in weeding weakness out of the Russian gene pool, and now you’re next. You are on the Soviet territory, and you are becoming a better man. If you need to know how, I’ll teach you. If you don’t want to, I’ll make you.”

https://reallifemag.com/kettlebell


Adam Savage on being a generalist:

Jack of all trades, master of none, but often better than a master of one.

A fantastic bit on the joys and virtues of skill gathering. Being a generalist is a craft of it’s own.


Some thoughts on the book Little, Big:


The rise and fall of Getting Things Done:

Not really what it sounds like, but a good examination of what’s been driving the personal productivity trends of the past twenty years and why being personally more productive is a coping mechanism, not a solution to a bigger issue. I’m a GTD and bullet journal fan myself and have a bit of a hybrid approach of the two running (more on that soon). Maybe I’m part of the problem.

This bit about Peter Drucker and the genesis of modern productivity caught my attention:

It wasn’t immediately obvious how this industrial concept of productivity might be adapted from the assembly line to the office. A major figure in this translation was Peter Drucker, the influential business scholar who is widely regarded as the creator of modern management theory.

To support his emphasis on knowledge-worker autonomy, Drucker introduced the idea of management by objectives, a process in which managers focus on setting out clear targets, but the details of how they’re accomplished are left to individuals. This idea is both extremely consequential and rarely debated. It’s why the modern office worker is inundated with quantified quarterly goals and motivating mission statements, but receives almost no guidance on how to actually organize and manage these efforts. It was thus largely owing to Drucker that, in 2004, when Merlin Mann found himself overwhelmed by his work, he took it for granted that the solution to his woes would be found in the optimization of his personal habits.

Which has now led to the following situation we find ourselves in:

The knowledge sector’s insistence that productivity is a personal issue seems to have created a so-called “tragedy of the commons” scenario, in which individuals making reasonable decisions for themselves insure a negative group outcome. An office worker’s life is dramatically easier, in the moment, if she can send messages that demand immediate responses from her colleagues, or disseminate requests and tasks to others in an ad-hoc manner. But the cumulative effect of such constant, unstructured communication is cognitively harmful: on the receiving end, the deluge of information and demands makes work unmanageable. There’s little that any one individual can do to fix the problem. A worker might send fewer e-mail requests to others, and become more structured about her work, but she’ll still receive requests from everyone else; meanwhile, if she decides to decrease the amount of time that she spends engaging with this harried digital din, she slows down other people’s work, creating frustration.


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