A few weeks back, my wife and I were preparing for a then-upcoming vacation. Our voting cards had recently come by mail and I was listing off the voting information (location, date, etc.) when she realized that election day was happening while we were out of the country. This was the first time I would be physically unable to vote on the day, so we started looking into what one does when this happens. I had heard in the past about early voting, though never needed it.
Turns out, the early voting days would start the day after we departed for our trip (of course).
In cases like this, you need to contact your local elections office to request a special voting kit that would allow you to send in your votes early. Thankfully the elections offices are open during the week until 9pm, so we were able to go in person to fill out the paperwork to pick up our kits and vote. It required us to write out our candidate of choice on a blank ballot, then seal those votes in an envelope, which was then sealed in a separate envelope to track that we had voted but not track who received our votes.
I’m glad these kinds of provisions are in place to allow us to exercise our civic duties. While we know our votes would not be missed if we had skipped this election, and even though we had to go out of our way to vote, my wife and I nevertheless feel it’s important that we do our part to show up and participate in the process.
You can tell who has recently released a book based on who is making their way through the podcast circuit. It’s never a coincidence if you see an author’s name pop up on the latest episodes of several shows your have saved in your playlist. I enjoy listening to these episodes to get book recommendations, and for the most part find that the shows don’t go into too much depth with the author.
This was pointed out by a friend of mine (thanks, Wil, for smashing my illusions!) when he commented that a show I happen to listen to lacks the depth he looks for in a good podcast. After he pointed that out, I saw it everywhere: the host of the show brings the author on, and by whatever means the talking-points get established, the show typically has the host ask 5-10 key questions that are ripped directly from the book. It reminds me of students who skip the reading because the whole thing is covered in class. You get a good sense of what the main points of the book are, but that’s about it. If you’ve read the book already, you might as well skip the podcast episode.
However, there are gems in some shows, and I spotted two a few weeks back. On two different shows, authors who had recently released books were chatting about the ideas in the book and the topic drifted to the idea-generation process. They were short asides, but I found them fascinating to hear how these authors come up with their ideas and structure the construction of their books.
You can give the shows a listen yourself, but I’ve summarized the main points below.
(promoting his book Range)
The Longform Podcast, episode 348 (starts at 21:08)
How do you set up the bounds of research? How do you delineate what you put in the book? What should I include in the book?
- There will be a few topics you generally know should be in, but after that you don’t know.
- Epstein starts with a broad search down rabbit holes. He used to think this was a bad thing and a waste of time, but now it’s thought of as a competitive advantage. Sometimes, though, you end up with a bunch of nonsense.
- He creates a master thought list – citation and key ideas or sentences.
- As these coalesce into a topic, he moves like-ideas together. When a topic emerges, he tags it with a title and creates keywords that he would use if he’s searching for it. Then he moves similar tags together and a movie storyboard emerges where one topic flows into the next.
- The goal is to avoid it being a bunch of journal articles stitched together.
- It’s a road map of his brain’s exploration of the topic.
- Unlike academics who just read journals and don’t go in-depth, he uses his journalism training to talk to the people – more will always come out in conversation than what’s included in the text. Scientists will include interesting tidbits offhand that are related, but don’t expand on it, so it creates a thread to pull on. It’s also a good fact-checking exercise and makes the story richer.
(promoting his book Digital Minimalism)
Love Your Work, episode 183 (starts at 49:30)
How do you find ideas that are well-timed/timely with discourse on careers, technology, etc.?
- He thinks, writes, and publishes all the time (especially blog posts and articles). He’s constantly reading and testing out ideas. He’s talking to people, having conversations, and seeing what topics emerges. It’s a work ethic to him to constantly be reading and writing.
- He tests out what he’s interested in and see if others are interested. It might be foundational to something he works on over time, or it might wither because it doesn’t gain traction or doesn’t bear fruit.
- To validate ideas: 1. He asks, “Are people talking about it, or leaving interesting comments on my blog posts?” 2. With ideas comes a sense of “mental confidence.” He asks “Is this working for me? Does it click as a structure to provide a workable framework for seeing the world?”
- Over time, something will emerge and persist. It generates advice that’s useful, more evidence comes up, and it is applicable across situations.
- The search is opportunistic, but once something emerges, he does a deep dive. (Kadavy evokes the fox-porcupine reference from Isaiah Berlin, popularized by Jim Collins).
There are some people that when they speak, I will stop to listen. We have many examples of people who are gifted public speakers, but to me few are more powerful than Jon Stewart, former host of the Daily Show. He spoke at a House sub-committee hearing last week and so thoroughly presented his case, the bill passed unanimously. I hope the initiative continues as smoothly through the House proper and the Senate, and is eventually passed into law, because the hypocrisy and virtue-signalling is appalling. At the centre of Stewart’s argument is the notion that the sacrifice and bravery of the responders during 9/11 should be honoured by taking care of those who are suffering because of their service that day.
Public speaking as a skill is hard, but there is more than just vocalizing the words. Stewart’s presentation, his ethos (he has earned the right to speak through his work), his pathos (the passion he speaks from on behalf of those he’s fighting for) and the pure logos (no one can form a devastating argument from observations the way a comedian can) all come together to give us a masterclass in political oration.
Give it a watch. It made me feel choked up.