Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

I do want to share how this book was written. The author a well-renowned medical doctor and a global health educator with a well-known TED talk. When he was diagnosed with an incurable pancreatic cancer, he canceled his external engagements and focused on pouring his knowledge into this book. This book is his final gift to the world to make sense of the world around us amidst the noise and to create impact with the knowledge.

Every day, We are bombarded with information too general and simplistic. This book was spoken from the author’s voice and was an easy read. Each chapter demystifies each of our instincts and shares with us stories and rules to test our assumptions. He gives us tools at the end of each chapter of how we can think like a true data scientist.

With this book, we can see that the world is not as bad as it seems, “and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better.”

The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Link here

I picked up this book in the midst of COVID-19. It helped me rationalize and understand this mark in our better.

One day, I will think of this moment as a simple story, simplified, summarized, and elegant, but there are often moments like these with great pangs in our stomachs unsure and unfathomable.

As Nassim taught us, we seem to tend to rationalize the events past – that they are fathomable that they somehow made sense. Alas, the occurrence of the market shifting up or down, one country or state falling or another though they lay completely outside of our forecast, do not seem so outlandish in the aftermath.

Perhaps instead of focusing on the worst-case scenario and the unknowns, we can focus on the redundancies – less imposed, more regular, and more derived from the past – the long-term game. And we continue to stay true of – sticking to what grounds us – just like time spent with family, friends, and all else certainly keeping our feet on the ground.

Digital Diplomacy: Conversations on Innovation in Foreign Policy

Digital Diplomacy is a series of interviews compiled by a public affairs officer at the Italian Embassy. I will never forget the first time I met him. He hosted an all-women panel with the coolest social impact pioneers in DC – Frances Holuba from the Obama White House, Nicole Isaac from LinkedIn and Anastasia Dellaccio of WeWork Creator Awards at the time. I remember this was one of my most favorite events to this day..

This is an important book of our time for many reasons. There are not many books told from the perspective of a public diplomacy practitioner of how to navigate the waters of the changing time today. He cherry-picked the innovation leaders across the administration and those at the front seat in Washington DC from the World Economic Forum, United Nations, TEDx, and the New America Foundation. His questions are well-researched and poignant. He pulls from history and covers different perspective specific for each interviewee for what it means to innovate, what conditions create the culture to innovate from respective organizations, and how to conduct it with vision, strategy and for good.

It is a guidebook to treasure for all thinkers and practitioners in government, business, and private partners interested in working at an international level. I am still a fan of his Medium, and I recommend you all to check it out, if you haven’t done so already. 🙂

Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100

Physics of the Future is one of Michio Kaku’s earlier books of his series of his forecasts of the future. I really enjoyed this book – as he dissects each industry into each layers, he goes in depth into each industry with a rules as a physicist under fundamental laws of physics. As he begins the book, he warns the readers – everything we will read about are projections are the future.

The storyboards he envisions is quite extraordinary. From his own experiences and from the tech evolution he witnesses, he shows us the economic and physical possibilities of the future, for instance, how room temperature semiconductors can enable flying cars. He does explain the tech limitations as he goes into each sector, but I did wish he went into the unintended consequences of each tech today.

Instead of writing about how robots might gain consciousness some day, I wished he could write more about issues we are currently facing, such as the AI’s flawed algorithm giving us biased results. Data trust and privacy issues.

This book takes you on quite a journey. There is energy and enthusiasm radiating from the book as a quantum physicist in the future that he sees. I am certainly looking forward to reading his other books.

The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World

Anne-Marie Slaughter was the former Director of Policy Planning Staff at the Office of Secretary at the State Department. She starts off the book by challenging the reader on the traditional notions of statecraft and standard foreign policy procedures, which is mainly in person – holding conferences or convening task forces.

This book is a call upon global leaders to respond to differently to the threats today whether you are fighting disinformation, assembling an army against Al-Qaeda, or bringing concerted mayors for climate change.

She provides three main frameworks: resilience, task, and scale. She employs theories from psychology, economics, and of course, foreign policy. The tools were on “how to pursue its interest and affect the behavior of others….how to assemble coalition of nations [and] how, when, where to advance specific types of goals.”

In this era of remote work and staying connected online, her strategies made me think about how I was utilizing my own network – if I could employ some of her strategies to effectively use it to my own.

I think this book is what it does to the readers – it gives us thought experiments. As she finishes off with the section on the grand network power, she writes those who can garner the strategies in today’s world can unlock innovation and sustainable growth and can nurture our own power in the networked age.

Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries

This book has many accolades from accomplished authors – Daniel Kahneman, the writer of Thinking Fast and Slow, Siddartha Mukherjee, the author of The Emperor All Maladies, and others. Here is one I agreed with the most.

“Who knew that one idea could connect naval battles, chirping crickets, and the birth of modern science? If The Da Vinci Code and Freakonomics had a child together, it would be called Loonshots. This book is a must read for anyone in business, education, or public service.” ―Senator Bob Kerrey, Medal of Honor recipient, former Navy SEAL and president of The New School

I’m really glad I bought it in print. I took many notes, and I have a feeling I would revisit this book from now and then.

Loonshots, as it says on the back of the book, is a “neglected project, widely dismissed, its champion written off as unhinged.” It is about how these ideas can be nurtured into potential to change the world with the right formula, incentives, and as the physicist calls is, the right “temperature controls.”

The writer, Safi Bahcall, is a physicist by training. He had a stint at McKinsey and co-founded a biotech startup, which he led into an IPO. This book is a recollection of simple truths of management he found during his career, in history, and in organizations of how interesting ideas are curated. He brings together wonderful stories from bits of history, startups, the organizations structure at DARPA to incentivizing mechanisms at McKinsey. He takes us through his journey of the questions he must have asked himself – such as the relativity of innovation for strategy vs. product in incubating his startup.

While I was reading, I kept thinking to myself this must be how Stephen Hawking sees the world – in searching for the elegant theories that make sense of the world. It was refreshing to read from a voice who observed the world and made sense of it in structures and business models than mere observations.

He recognized the scientific principles that apply in organizational settings at McKinsey also as physicist turned entrepreneur. He weaves together humor and history in it all.

So yes, dare I say, I join the comments of many and add my high praise to this eclectic, pivotal book of this time – a moonshot book of our generation.

Disaster Security: Using Intelligence and Military Planning for Energy and Environmental Risks

This is a book recommended by a close friend who is also a climate scientist. Chad Briggs and Miriam Matejova takes the audience interested in scenarios, simulations, and disaster planning through different exercises developed under the umbrella of the US Department of Energy and the US Air Force.

Militaries often use war games and simulation exercises for scenario planning. These exercises can be very applicable for energy and environmental security scenarios as well. These scenarios present different security challenges and their potential cascading impacts on global systems – from the melting of glaciers in the Andes to hurricanes in New York and Hawaii, and on to hybrid disasters, cyberoperations and geoengineering can carry very high risks.

The authors emphasize the very “human” element to tackling climate change and that the records and historical accounts and modeling are no longer paint a complete picture. Although this is a rather new approach, it has a close overview of the lessons and solutions to the world’s pressing energy and environmental security challenges.

“We wanted to emphasize that it’s not just about climate change. That’s a really important factor but it’s there in the background. Human actions as well are really important. These aren’t just natural disasters; these depend upon human actions and human vulnerabilities”

Some of the lessons learned were really interesting. He notes, local knowledge is far superior to the technical and published reports or effective strategies to cover for institutional blind spots in training.

In today’s networked world, environmental disasters are becoming more likely with the traditional notions of hard security becoming increasingly challenged. I thought this book was quite enlightening and a good one to have in the toolbox – for partnership practitioners – it is increasingly important to be ready to be ready for the unpredictable and extreme – to be aware of the vulnerable and complexities and to be flexible in thought – whether they be disasters or climate adaptations.

Winners Take All – the Elite Charade of Changing the World

Winners Take All – the Elite Charade of Changing the World

by Anand Giridharadas

Link here

“Elites, he wrote, have found myriad ways to change things on the surface so that in practice nothing changes at all. The people with the most to lose from genuine social change have placed themselves in charge of social change – often with the passive assent of those most in need of it.”

“Business elites are taking over the work of changing the world. Many believe they are changing the world when they may instead—or also—be protecting a system that is at the root of the problems they wish to solve.”

I felt like he was speaking right at me as I was reading this book. I am working in the VC scene, claiming to be socially conscious, and a proponent of for-profit solutions to social problems.

I could tell this book was in a way a personal letter to himself and to his well-intentioned friends at the Davos, or the Aspen Institutes. It is a call to action for elites and every day citizens that we have crafted a system that continues to benefit us rather than the society as a whole. It made me question a few things in my professional life – about how “purpose-driven” some of my organizations are or how “charitable” they are – why I get involved into the things I do. Are they part of the problem? Are they trying to fix the problem?

I could definitely think about how the business models of these “networks for good” could perpetrate itself. So many organizations I’ve been to were interesting experiences without concrete aftermath or real results. A lot of them served to celebrate themselves, a platform to lay shoulder to shoulder under the clout of the word “impact.”

It’s a confusing world of social impact and corporate social responsibility. I think the mechanisms have always been there before the orientations. Lots of hard questions here. I think it comes down to this. I don’t think it matters whether we work in Wall Street or at a charity. Government provides mechanisms and regulations and capitalism as a pursuit of free will is good.

Operational businesses create value for society.

A lot of progress came from small, unrecognized acts. My hope is that we can ask more tough questions. What’s important is whether or not we are willing to engage ourselves in tough moral questions. I think then we can live a life of vocation with great empathy and celebration of life.

What is the alternative? Giridharadas, quoting a Baha’i saying, contends that “[s]ocial change is not a project that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another.” Instead, he continues, we must solve problems “together in the public sphere through the tools of government and in the trenches of civil society … that give the people you are helping a say in the solutions [and] offer that say in equal measure to every citizen.”

So then we work together. As an ecosystem.

The goal is always going to be sustainable value. Today’s challenges are vast and complicated. Today’s technologies could fuel social and economic order uprooting hierarchies. When I was at State, I came to see how vital diplomacy is in unlocking global alliances into a capacity for security and a public good. The problem is that there are no easy answers to truly complex problems and that we need to cultivate the conditions wherein emerges over time to co-create a shared outcome.

The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Myths

link here.

Now this is one of my favorite books.

It was not an easy read. It is a little more dense and challenging. But as a former recovering govie, it is speaking my language. Her book is written to debunk the public opinion of a “lumbering, bureaucratic state versus a dynamic, innovative private sector.” She writes on a series of recognizable case studies – Apple, Tesla, the Internet, and dissects how every tech invention we have in our hands came from the high-risk investments the government had initially had made. This also bled into other sectors in biotech and nanotech.

She also goes into comparing different models in China and the UK of their public-private approaches. She writes that the necessary movements and the tech advancements we need to see in this world, including the green revolution, needs to be backed by “patient capital” – the kind VCs do not always have the time for, and public sector and de-financialized private sector, that got the IT revolution off the ground.

To me though, it does seem like historical and observational accounts than experiential. As someone who had been in government and had seen innovation and partnerships firsthand, I am not as optimistic.

I did enjoy the in-depth examples and the case studies.

In clean tech, VC funding is focused on some of the safer bets rather than radical innovation for the sector to transform society. The public sector money is currently funding the riskiest and the most capital intensive projects in clean tech -in the upper right corner.

Clean tech companies can face a number of challenges transitioning from R&D to commercial production and the amount of capital require to reach economies of scale is typically higher than in the IT sectors where VC wealth is originated in the first place. 

Climate change could not be a primary justification for investing in energy technologies, as it could be partially be “solved” with other non-renewable technologies like nuclear power.

Given the risk aversion nature of businesses, government need to sustain funding for the radical ideas to push the green industrial revolution to support the research and development of clean technologies to their commercial viability. VCs provide the capital to bridge the transition into commercialized production, but cannot provide the capital into IPO, merger, or acquisition. Commercial banks perceive clean tech firms or renewable energy projects as too risky. Public finance firms or State development banks may foster such innovation, as they are committed to be patient. Businesses and State has been historical partners in the process of economic and technological development.

There are different types of firms and types of policies that interact to shape to meet the desired ends. It is important to be innovative about the process and to  understand the division of labor between the actors in the system, the role and commitment of each actor in the context in which they all operate.

Mazzucato shows that in modern capitalism the State has also actively shaped and created markets. This required financing not only basic research but also applied research and early stage financing of companies. In doing so, the State sometimes wins and sometimes fails. This book considers how to change this dysfunctional dynamic so that economic growth can be not only ‘smart’ but also ‘inclusive’. It is a conversation the U.S. desperately needs to have.