Why Are We Polarized?

Are we bound to follow tribal instincts when logic should lead us across the political aisle?

When I hear that the American political system isn’t broken, but exactly working as designed I can’t help but wonder how this can be true in times of all-encompassing social media, rapid loss of attention, and increasing discrimination of economic opportunity. However Ezra Klein’s book Why We’re Polarized claims that, and more, that this working political system is polarized by us as we are getting polarized by it. As confusing as it starts, Klein nevertheless does a fantastic job to elaborate his thoughts throughout ten chapters spread over 268 pages with convincing research and easy-to-read prose.

Frankly, I found this general topic challenging to comprehend. Hence Klein’s book appears to me neither a clear-cut psychological review of polarization nor is it a deep dive into America’s governance and democratic institutions. It comes across as a hybrid of history lessons, democratic ideas, and political media management. In light of such a mess I tend to gravitate to first principles: what is polarization? 

According to Klein “the logic of polarization is to appeal to a more polarized public, (so) political institutions and actors behave in more polarized ways. As political institutions and actors become more polarized, they further polarize the public.

Explaining polarization with polarization isn’t helpful. After searching for adequate definitions I found myself trapped in deciding between constitutional polarization and political polarization and the iterative sense of polarization. Interpreting Klein’s logic polarization may be a deviation from core political beliefs toward ideological extremes in an effort to reach a new audience. That in turn perpetuates a more extreme behavior of political actors and institutions. As Klein argues:   

“This sets off a feedback cycle: to appeal to a yet more polarized public, institutions must polarize further; when faced with yet more polarized institutions, the public polarizes further, and on on.”

It’s not an ideal beginning to a complex story, but it makes the most out of it. Across the first few chapters, Klein dives into the history of the American political system; mainly how Democrats turned liberal and Republicans became conservative. When it comes to group identity, the book dives deeper into the psychological aspects of us voters. 

“We became more consistent in the party we vote for not because we came to like our party more– indeed, we’ve come to like the parties we vote for less–but because we came to dislike the opposing party more.”

To put it simply Klein argues we have a stronger loyalty to our group than we have to our own ideology. Add in some cases a strong repulsion of the other group’s belief system. Klein continues:

“The human mind is exquisitely tuned to group affiliation and group difference. It takes almost nothing for us to form a group identity, and once that happens, we naturally assume ourselves in competition with other groups. The deeper our commitment to our group becomes, the more determined we become to ensure our group wins.”

There is plenty of well-established scientific research to concur with this notion. While the psychology of the crowd is one factor in this complex analysis, Klein manages to clarify that our identity, more than our previous system of beliefs, where we live, or who we associate with, dictates our sense of loyalty. And no other entity threatens our identity as much as the media. American media, the press, and political journalism are by nature mouthpieces of certain political powers – and always have been. Following the hotly contested Presidential election in the year 2000, the election of America’s first African-American President in 2008, and the consistently increasing economic gap between those who repair, clean, transport, deliver, and educate our communities and those who (merely) push paper our American identity has never been more called into question as it is today; especially in policy proposals of aspiring presidential candidates. Klein does not shy away from criticizing the media’s contribution to the skewed, partisan landscape:

“If we (the media) decide to give more coverage to Hillary Clinton’s emails than to her policy proposals–which is what we did–then we make her emails more important to the public’s understanding of her character and the potential presidency than her policy proposals. In doing so, we shape not just the news but the election, and thus the country.”

Overall, though, Klein’s book feels like a warm conversation with someone who is genuinely interested in understanding how we got where we are. He offers a clear diagnosis of the current State of the Union without swaying too far into either political camp, but falls short in offering a pathway forward or even mere suggestions on how to bridge the gap between opposing (political) viewpoints; therefore groups. Ezra Klein’s advice is “to pay attention to identity. What identity is that news article invoking? What identity is making you defensive? What does it feel like when you get pushed back into an identity? Can you notice when it happens?”

It is an engaging book that provides insight into the political discourse of America beyond New York or California. While it is well written and researched it feels more like a conversation, a starting point, rather than a solution or a means forward. 

Meaning Is The New Money

This provocative new book on religion and work in the technology sector will make you see life in a different light.

According to 4 U.S.C. §4 the United States is one Nation under God. H.R. 619 (84th) passed and approved by President Dwight D. Eisenhower mandates the official motto of the United States “In God We Trust” to appear on all currency issued by the Federal Government of these United States. Without a doubt, religion and spirituality are deeply rooted in this country. Hence it comes as no surprise when Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley Carolyn Chen posits “Work Becomes Religion in Silicon Valley” in her new book Work Pray Code

“Today, companies are not just economic institutions. They’ve become meaning-making institutions that offer a gospel of fulfillment and divine purpose in a capitalist cosmos.”

The colorful, borderline-sacred language of this statement illustrates Chen’s ambitions to base the premise of this book on the workplace is replacing religious needs. At her core argument, Chen reasons companies create a meaningful work experience by emulating religious themes, omitting the spiritual or discriminating aspects of faith, which is becoming a substitute for exercising religion outside of work and with the community.

“Religions and companies are collective enterprises. They are ‘faith communities’, communities that support the act of faith. On one level, faith communities do this by articulating the articles of faith– the doctrines, creeds, and sacred texts and teachings. For most companies, and many other organizations, these articles of faith are their mission statement and statement of core values.”

Taken at face value, Chen makes it appear that companies’ mission statements emulate or are synonymous with religious beliefs. However, a closer look reveals that the mission statements of neither Google, Meta (née Facebook) nor Microsoft purport articles of faith. Taking it a step further, if Chen defines religions as collective enterprises, I’d argue companies may as well be independent organizations each governed by unique financial and economic goals, limited by available budget and human resources. A number of technology companies operating out of Silicon Valley engage in eco-friendly sustainability to power data centers and other parts of the organization, but is the water supply division of Meta truly vested in the intricacies of reviewing python code to reign in inauthentic behavior and other automated malicious behavior on Instagram? Could each division link the other’s efforts back to the mission statement? Whose division will shut down first to protect the integrity of the mission statement? I have doubts. 

“In the Silicon Valley workplace, work and life are no longer separate and opposing spheres because life happens at work. In fighting the notion that work and life occupy distinct spaces and times, tech companies are reviving a much older way of organizing society. In agrarian societies, work and life were integrated for both women and men. The farm was both home– where people ate, slept, and played– and workplace– where people labored and participated in the economic system. Industrialization began to impose stark boundaries between work and life, particularly for men. Work became confined to a particular space, time, and logic– the factory, with its rhythm governed by the values of efficiency and productivity. Life– defined as activities that don’t contribute to production– happened outside of the factory in the home, church, neighborhood, bowling alley, baseball diamond, saloon, hair salon, and so on. […] Today’s tech company is returning to the undifferentiated spheres of its preindustrial predecessor, however, by making life a part of work.”

This paragraph resonated with me for its accuracy and insight. Coming from a farmer’s family, I experienced some variation of an undifferentiated sphere where work and life all took place at the same time. Somewhere along the road, it all separated into standalone parts of our day. As a technology company, an unrelenting global market of competition for highly-skilled talent as well as pushing products directly to the consumer in real-time is an incentive to maximize productivity and workforce utilization by ensuring a highly-skilled employee is 100% focused on its division’s roadmap and driving execution of it.

I cannot make up my mind about this book. On one hand, Chen makes a valid point by stating technology companies emulate religious characteristics in order to alleviate their employee’s spiritual needs. Moreover, I subscribe to the general argument of mindfulness in conjunction with corporate materialism appears to create an industrial-technology complex that emanates virtues and exercises characteristics of religions. On the other hand, however, I fail to identify a link between a technology company using methods and characteristics developed to further religious beliefs resulting in a replacement theory that Chen appears to offer in her introduction. I view these efforts as motivated by raw capitalism: to benefit its workforce and increase productivity, utilization, and retention as a side effect. Furthermore, her focus is exclusively on technology companies located in Silicon Valley. In reality, however, technology companies are located all over the United States with varying numbers of full-time employees. Limiting her research on the technology sector alone appears to be a flimsy base for a solid argument too. For example, 3M, General Motors, Kraft Heinz, and even Exxon Mobile have a history of wide-ranging benefits similar to Silicon Valley. Setting aside economic motives, Chen missed out on exploring these other sectors including academia, which is known for its fraternal, cult-esque exclusivity, and the almighty military, which is known for strict indoctrination and behavioral codes

Altogether I learned a lot about the perception and correlation of both religion and Silicon Valley. Whether it applies to the modern workplaces as Carolyn Chen weaves it together remains to be discovered by the reader. Perhaps concluding with more critique than praise for Work Pray Code is a good thing for it forced me to reflect on some preconceived notions about religion. Chen devoted an entire chapter to the art of reflection and I found Lin Chi’s quote to question more perfect to end: “if you meet the Buddha, kill him.” But before you do, read this book.

Becoming Boss

Do you have what it takes to be a leader? Probably not. But that’s all right. In her mid-twenties, Julie Zhuo answered the call for leadership when she became a manager at Facebook. In her book, she compiled her mistakes, lessons, and strategies to lead people and create better organizations – so you can learn to become a leader.

What do you do when everyone looks to you for guidance and leadership? Some thrive in the spotlight. Others crumble and fail. Julie Zhuo went from being the first intern “at this website called Facebook” to becoming a Vice President of Product Design in her 13.5 years at the social network. Her career is not a career of an outlier but a results-driven, hard-working individual. Managing people is no different. Managers are made, not born. 

The Making of a Manager is a field guide for growth. First, I read it cover-to-cover. Then I realized how powerful each chapter is by itself and started keeping it near my desk to calibrate my thinking against experiences at work. Zhuo describes her growth through a forward-leaning approach to people management. Most notably, her approach seeks to stress test her own leadership protocol to fail – only to allow her a chance to improve it. It’s hard work. Dedication. And (my personal favorite) thoughtful questions directed at peers, partners, reports, but perhaps most importantly herself. After all, leadership starts with managing yourself.   

Any entrepreneur will benefit from her early experience at a company that would grow to redefine how people connect with one another. Any employee in a large organization will relate to her tactful yet challenging questions during individual and group meetings. Zhuo’s relatable and empathetic writing style reels in any reader contemplating a career in people management. That being said, the market for business books is quite saturated with leadership or self-improvement books and to some, her experience might be too far from reality given her unique circumstances coming up at Facebook. To this day, I truly enjoy reading her posts or notes and the general public can do so too on her blog The Looking Glass, or on her website at https://www.juliezhuo.com/

Who Holds The Pen? 

Richard Stengel’s memoir illustrates the complexity of modern government.

Richard Stengel served as the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs alongside the 68th Secretary of State John Kerry. In his memoir “Information Wars – How We Lost The Global Battle Against Disinformation & What We Can Do About It” he recounts his time working for the Obama administration. Arguably, the Obama administration was a forward-leaning government calibrated to modern technology with a pulse on current affairs. Stengel really captures the struggles that even a modern government must overcome. From protocol and etiquette at meetings to the clearance protocol of social media use and other technology. When recounting his efforts to drive the democratic narrative online, combatting bad actors in the process, Stengel observed: 

“One of the things I’d noticed in government is that people who had never been in media, who had never written a story or produced one, […] who didn’t understand audiences or what they liked, seemed to think it was easy to create content. People had the illusion that because they consumed something, they understood how it worked.

This fallacy applies to many more segments of society, not just government. It illustrates how technology is misunderstood by the public who tend to forget that policy decisions and strategy at scale, impacting thousands if not millions of people, are incredibly tough to fine-tune and nuanced at all levels. Stengel offers an example of counter-messaging the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram social media by leveraging the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC). Boko Haram had kidnapped some 276 girls from a secondary school in Nigeria. The idea was simple: show support for the kidnapped girls in an online campaign. Stengel approved the content for the campaign. Ten days later, he found out the content was objected by the Africa bureau. After updating the content with feedback from the Africa bureau, the content was approved but not through the clearance process because the Bureau of Intelligence and Research had objected on those changes. Ten days of silence on social media is tantamount to a lifetime of non-existence. Stengel went on learning that things he’d expect to take hours would take days; things he’d expect to take days would take weeks; things that he’d expect to take weeks would take months. Many more governmental departments default to “No” than to a “Yes”. It really made me think about new ways to improve government. But it is also an urgent reminder that government needs disruption.  

Another interesting lesson from this book is the balance between diplomacy, career development and leadership. His interactions with the Secretary of State John Kerry testify to Stengel’s business acumen despite working for the government. About Kerry Stengel notes:

“He’s permanently leaning forward. That was his attitude about the world as well. To plunge in, to move forward, to engage. There’s no knot he doesn’t think he can untie, no breach that he can’t heal. For him, the cost of doing nothing was always higher than that of trying something.

It’s almost bittersweet to read these lines of optimism considering the slow pace the State Department moved during these heydays of ISIS, Al-Qaeda or Boko Haram all the way leading up to the Russian influence operation to undermine the 2016 US Presidential elections. Then again, Stengel really captured the predicament of the government at the time when he writes:

“What few of us understood at that point was that our opponents– Russia as well as ISIS –wanted us to get into a back-and-forth with them. It validated what they were doing, brought us down to their level, and besides, we weren’t as good at it as they were. They won when they got us to respond in kind.”

Engagement and impressions are everything online. Capturing our attention is the success metric for effective influence operations. This can be an overt diplomatic endeavor, like the Iran Nuclear deal, that sought to bring the United States and Iran a step closer together, or it can be a clandestine operation, like ‘Glowing Symphony’, that sought to deplatform ISIS and eradicate their narrative online. 

Information Wars should have been titled with a more accurate title. Other than that I found Stengel’s memoir quite illuminating when it comes to government processes and how the State Department aligns itself with the current administration. As a journalist-by-trade and former managing editor of Time Magazine, Stengel’s writing style is simple and narrating. The density could have been better. It sometimes feels like a magazine. Across 7 parts and numerous chapters a lot of personal anecdotes and experience dilute the lessons of this book. Without that, this 314 page memoir could have been a concise non-fiction on influence operations and a concise memoir about his life. 

How To Bring People Together And Create Meaningful Memories

Everything you ever wanted to know about gathering strangers, colleagues, friends, or family under a variety of circumstances so they will connect and cherish the event.

Priya Parker is an expert in conflict resolution. Throughout her career, her work often required facilitating high-stakes meetings between different political leaders around the world. This helped her to collect first-hand experience about how we connect with one another and what makes a gathering meaningful. In essence that is what The Art Of Gathering – How We Meet And Why It Matters is all about. It’s a root cause analysis that identifies the levers to make an event become a lasting memory. Her premise is centered around the fallacy of the “chill host”. A chill host is overly concerned about the logistics of an event instead of caring about the people and their experiences. It’s the type of “hands-off” host who sits back on the night of the gathering. Parker argues the event starts at the moment of the first conception and it ends (sometimes) long after people have left the premises. A host needs to identify beforehand the “why” they’re really gathering. What meaning is to be conveyed by bringing a certain group of people together? Who to invite? Who to cut? And where would be the optimal environment to accommodate individuals’ preferences? A host needs to be disciplined, proactive and leveraging pop-up rules. 

An illustration of the former is about her first experience with the female period. When she was eleven years old, she got her first period – at a friend’s house. Insecure about it, she didn’t tell anybody, but went back home and told her mom eventually. Eleven is an age where beliefs and judgments correlate with people’s reactions. Her mom’s reaction to learning about her daughter’s first period was one of celebration. She danced, hooted, and hollered with joy. Inadvertently or intentionally, her mom taught her daughter that being a woman, the unique features that make a woman female, was something to be celebrated, cherished, and embraced. Her mom even threw her a period party. How about that! 

Whereas an example for the latter is what Parker coined “The Château Principle”. Thereunder the host needs to realize that the choice of venue is among the most powerful levers over the guests’ behavior. Her example revolves around the infamous failure of merger negotiations between the French cellphone provider Alcatel and the American telecommunications equipment provider Lucent. (Read this analysis for more details) Initially, both parties prepared the merger diligently in good faith and geared up to create a “marriage of equals”. To finalize the deal, both parties were supposed to meet in a nondescript airport hotel in New Jersey. However, when an Alcatel executive fell ill, they requested the meeting to be held in France in the Château Des Mesnuls, a renaissance style castle. While it’s speculation to find out the real reasons for the failure of the merger, a few Lucent executives recounting the negotiations observed how the château brought out the Frenchness of the French. Alcatel employees became comfortable asserting their dominance on home turf which reflected a certain arrogance and hubris that tipped the negotiations to fall apart. Location, location, location is real-estate wisdom that also applies to gatherings. 

Parker wrote The Art Of Gathering across 281 pages segmented into 8 chapters. It is a quick and easy read yet I found some paragraphs could have been edited more succinctly. Her voice can come across as overbearing or patronizing, but I view this as part of re-learning a part of my life that I neglected for far too long. Notably understanding gatherings as social contracts with certain responsibilities is incredibly helpful. In addition to offering practical tips on how to discover, structure, and select event details I was surprised by how easy it seems to translate her findings to cyberspace, e.g metaverse gatherings in virtual reality or group events and chats on Facebook. Anyone quite interested in the subject of crowd psychology will be able to fill in knowledge gaps and view certain aspects of their social gatherings through a new, fresh lens. 

Book recommendations ebb and flow. Some find me by chance. Others are the product of premeditated research. The Art Of Gathering was recommended to me by my dear friend Nichole. The story of how we met goes beyond the scope of this blog, but I will document this: it was under the most random, endearing, and meaningful circumstances crammed into one weekend somewhere around Seattle. Flying boxed wine bags, neon lights, and deep, mind-absorbing conversations included.   

In case you are not into reading an entire book on the single topic of bringing people together then I would recommend watching this video. Parker says “how we gather is how we live”. How do you live your life? 

A Life In Special Operations

Nobody goes through life and is successful all on their own. In his memoir “Sea Stories: My Life In Special Operations” retired Admiral William H. McRaven chronicles some of his experiences, achievements, and challenges that would not have been possible without the help of others. 

I never know what to expect from memoirs, autobiographies, or personal accounts. “Make Your Bed”, however, made me feel excited to learn more about the life of Admiral William H. McRaven. He first went viral following his commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin reaching a broad audience at home and abroad. His remarkable career within special operations could be described with an endless list of Hollywood movies that includes the capture of Saddam Hussein, the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, and the infamous Operation Neptune Spear – the mission to bring to justice the leader of Al-Qaeda – Osama bin Laden. Sea Stories is the rendezvous of his personal account and professional experience. Across eighteen chapters, McRaven tells his story of becoming a special operator. Born into a military family, McRaven gradually evolved his character from a rambunctious average child to a skilled and trusted leader. The early chapters eloquently describe the struggle to follow the footsteps of his family and the generation that ended European tyranny. Finding his profession through an evolution of athletic endeavors combined with the grace and support of good people helping the young McRaven along the way was heart-warming to read but also inspiring when McRaven reflected

knowing I could set a goal, work hard, suffer through pain and adversity, and achieve something worthwhile made me realize that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to

McRaven’s writing style is entertaining yet sometimes a little bland. Each chapter has its own charisma and appeal, which make this book a great read for a commute or as an alongside read to another book.

Critics called out that other communities within special operations have taken a different approach to public relations, one defined by discretion and the principle of the quiet professional. McRaven’s memoir continues to amplify the already romanticized image of the Navy SEALs without critically examining the current issues within the Navy SEAL community ranging from alleged war crimes to mental health to discipline problems. When in reality, the Navy SEAL community is drifting away from its core values prompting retired and active duty Navy SEALs to speak up against the exploitation for personal gain by so many former special operators. McRaven failed the reader in that regard, but perhaps more tragically failed his fellow SEALs. Sea Stories is nothing more than repeating special operation missions already known to the public. In some cases these stories were immortalized by heroic portrayals of Hollywood actors. But it’s also nothing less than a personal account of serving 37 years, almost four decades, in one of the toughest professional organizations within any military industrial complex in the world. I found pleasure reading some of the stories while its sometimes repetitive nature often undermined a true takeaway for the reader.  

When Did Truth Die?

Michiko Kakutani offers an eloquent compilation that explains the decay of veracity in the United States. But perhaps more importantly, it skillfully weaves together almost a century of painful lessons from history, literature, and politics.

The Death of Truth was highly scrutinized by media publishers, book critiques, and the greater literature community at the time of its publication. Google the reviews. As the title suggests The Death of Truth – Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump by Michiko Kakutani advocates for the truth to be added to the list of casualties of the former Trump administration. Reading this book at the end of 2021, almost exactly one year since Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States, and almost 3 ½ years after its initial release, I can’t help but view this book as a compilation of essays that are really bite-sized opinion pieces. This makes for an immersive, moving reading experience, but also renders the message of The Death of Truth to be the mere same polemic it appeared to seek to quash. Admittedly, a provocative diagnosis of our current political landscape is hardly done in the total absence of partisanship. 

Kakutani brilliantly threads her analysis by starting with a historical review of culture wars and past regimes’ handling of truth. She gradually escalates her storyline to the twenty-first century with humanity’s dependency on social media, algorithmic subversion of political decision making, and foreign actors exploiting the American focus on self-pursuit at the expense of civil responsibilities. In her epilogue, Kakutani warns of the continued erosion of democratic institutions. We, the people, must protect the democratic institutions that uphold the roof of democracy. At the same time, there won’t be any easy remedies or shortcuts that will fix our polarized, cultural division. Times like these require deft civil disobedience of the many that are publicly rejecting the idea of cynicism and resignation pursued by the totalitarian few. 

People who are likely to read this book are unlikely to learn something new, but I believe it’s still worth it for the extensive reading resources provided by Kakutani. Her remarkably colorful writing style and sobering outlook on the future state of veracity in the United States won’t disappoint either. NPR’s Michael Schaub nailed it when he wrote: “The Death of Truth is a slim volume that’s equally intriguing and frustrating, an uneven effort from a writer who is, nonetheless, always interesting to read.”

Learn To Lead With These Simple Strategies And Tactics

Jocko Willink’s field manual translates leadership theory into a practical guide for your everyday leadership. 

Leading people to achieve sometimes abstract business objectives is arguably among the most intricate human endeavors. Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual by Jocko Willink is a step-by-step guide on leadership strategies and how to become effective in leading other people. 

The book is structured in two parts spanning seven sections. Each section covers a specific area and appears to answer a specific question. For example, in part two section two, subsection e. titled “Decentralized Command or Lazy Designation?” Willink explores different styles of leadership to illustrate that a decentralized command can have the collateral appearance that a leader is constantly avoiding work or taking responsibility. A solution to this problem is a blend between observation and readiness to perform. This means, a leader should be aware of attitudes or misperceptions before they bloom into problems. Any inkling of that should be mitigated by taking over a task or taking charge of the most challenging project. This requires a leader to maintain a certain level of involvement and skill training. At this point, it becomes clear that Willinks advice finds its boundaries in the complex, corporate world where an upper-level manager is unlikely to maintain involvement in the ground operations of his reports. If one or more reports turn out to intentionally undermine the decentralized command to get rid of work, then, according to Willink, a leader should seek means to replace those reports, which is also not feasible and oftentimes can expose the company to legal risk. Nevertheless, the subsection provides important clarity on appearances and perceptions for both leaders and reports. Moreover, the mere awareness of an attitude within the team or certain individuals can help preempt certain leadership decisions in favor of a more collaborative solution. 

Another interesting subsection covers “Everone Is The Same, Everyone Is Different”. Therein Willink explores the concept of scaled leadership in moderation. In most organizations, large or small, there will be a high degree of individuality, but also a clear, common denominator across the employee pool. It is the responsibility of the leader to create basic leadership tools applicable across the entire spectrum of employees whenever a business’ need requires a specific team to perform. At the same time, the leader must retain an observant mindset to effectively modulate these leadership tools depending on the situation and the individual members of the team. In his example, Willink suggests understanding the drivers of the situation first before taking diplomatic steps that might result in increasing or decreasing a reports’ responsibilities. While it may be common sense in theory, these concepts rarely translate well into the real corporate world without a modicum of friction or confusion among reports. Tact, diplomacy, and subtlety, therefore, make or break an effective communication which is the foundation to successfully drive a critical business need to completion. 

In his conclusion titled “It’s All On You But Not About You” Willink reiterates the importance of keeping your ego in check and making it about helping others to succeed. All responsibility stops with the leader of an organization or team. But it’s not about the responsibility or about the leader. Leadership is about making informed, inclusive decisions to effectively drive company objectives together as a team to succeed as a team. It’s about forming effective relationships of trust across all levels of the organization. This requires discipline over ego and emotions. Failing to enable others to perform at the highest level possible will inevitably invite corrosive attitudes into an otherwise well-performing team. Understanding that a leader only succeeds when the team succeeds is true leadership. It really summarizes the theme of this book: be humble and if you take care of the work, the work will take care of you.

Jocko Willink spent his formative years in the military. His leadership as a commanding officer of SEAL Team 3 aka “Task Unit Bruiser” led to the most military decorations of a Special Operations unit during the Iraq War. With all that in mind, his writing style is militaristic, relies on military terminology, and often draws premise from complex, military regulations. Altogether this really undermines creative extrapolation into everyday leadership. If you aren’t familiar with his previous publications this book can appear too detached from everyday business issues for the non-military, mid-level manager of a brick-and-mortar business. Overall Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual is a good book. While it rides and repeats common sense concepts it creates value as an everyday guide for early and experienced leaders alike. It does compete with other business and management books on leadership in a rather saturated market. This makes me believe the audience for this book would be found in the military, government or other large-scale corporations. I’m having a hard time seeing this book attracting an audience in more progressive sectors.

You can find Jock Willink on
Facebook @jkowillink
Instagram @jockowillink
Twitter @jockowillink
YouTube @jockopodcastofficial

Find A Behavioral Solution To Your Product Design Problem

Our actions are (very much) predictable and can be influenced.

Humans are complicated. Humans are different. Humans are irrational, unpredictable, and emotional. In DECODING the WHY – How Behavioral Science is Driving the Next Generation of Product Design author Nate Andorsky embraces all these idiosyncrasies by answering these underlying questions: what makes us do what we do and how can product designers learn from these behavioral patterns to build better products. 

Andorsky takes the reader on a story-driven adventure into behavioral science. Decoding the Why lives in a constant tension between the evolution of product design and human behavior. It describes psychological concepts and how they influence product designs. It provides practical guidance on how to meet the consumer’s cognitive state before intent is formed and how to use behavioral science to nudge the consumer towards action. For example in the part about ‘Meeting Our Future Selves’ Andorsky reviews Matthew McConaughey’s iconic Oscar acceptance speech after winning the Oscar for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club.

“When I was 15 years old I had a very important person in my life come to me and say, ‘Who’s your hero?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, I gotta think about that, give me a couple of weeks.’

This Person comes back two weeks later and says, ‘Who’s your hero?’ I replied, ‘You know what, I thought about it and it’s me in ten years.’

So I turn twenty-five. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, ‘So are you a hero?’ I replied, ‘No, no, no, not even close.’ ‘Why?’ she said. ‘Cause my hero is me at thirty-five,’ I said.

See, every day, every week, every month, every year of my life, my hero is always ten years away. I’m never going to meet my hero, I am never going to obtain that, and that’s totally fine because it gives me somebody to keep on chasing.”

If humans were rational we’d all pursue the rational thing to maximize our time and energy. However, we are not rational. All too often we give in to the instant gratification that lies in the moment by putting off the thing that helps us tomorrow. This concept is also known as Hyperbolic Discounting. Andorsky walks the reader through the obstacles that keep us from meeting our future selves by reviewing methods such as reward systems, gamification models, commitment devices, and goal setting, all of which, are used to inform product design. 

If I ever write a book, I will likely attempt to create a similar structure and flow. Andorsky did an excellent job by breaking down the content into easily digestible parts. Each part tells a captivating story concluding in an engaging question for the reader. While the subject matter could have easily been told with jargon and psychology terminology, the author consistently uses clear and non-academic language to explain a variety of behavioral and psychological concepts and theories. Altogether this makes for an accessible page-turner offering a wide range of practical applications. 

Taking a birds-eye view on Decoding the Why, I feel, I could come to two conclusions that could not be further apart: (1) Andorsky answers the eternal question of what makes us do what we do and how product designers can learn from these behavioral patterns to build better products or (2) Andorsky provides ammunition to weaponize psychology in order to calibrate intrusive technology that can be used to manipulate and exploit human behavior. Whatever your position is on the question of using behavioral science to influence user behavior, this book is a gateway to explore psychological concepts, and it is an important read for changemakers. It can be used for good, or, it can be used to inform better public policy. I’d rank Decoding the Why as a must-read for product designers, product managers, and anyone working to improve user experiences in technology. 

Do We Want Science At Any Price?

Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists To America by Annie Jacobsen describes how American ambition to win the Space Race and the Cold War with the Soviet Union led to an unprecedented immigration bypass program to extract Nazi Germany’s brightest scientific minds.

Linda Hunt was the first writer to file multiple Freedom Of Information Act requests with different military organizations to access the classified documents pertaining to Operation Paperclip. After more than a year, two lawyers and a threatened lawsuit the U.S. Army finally released the records and billed her $239,680 in so-called search fees (significantly more than $500,000 in today’s money). Annie Jacobsen’s book builds upon Hunt’s revelations and adds hundreds of hours of interviews and declassified intelligence documents. Her paperback stands at 445 pages. It is segmented into five parts. It takes the reader to the end of WWII when the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) and the US Army’s Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) come across the Osenberg List. This document was the equivalent to a LinkedIn for scientists and engineers employed by the Third Reich. It served as a target list during Operation Paperclip with rocket scientist Wernher von Braun at its top. Jacobsen describes the bureaucratic and moral challenges of a democratic nation when recruiting Nazi war criminals. For example, the case of Walter Schreiber illustrated a nauseating calculus by the US military to contract the former surgeon general of the Third Reich under Operation Paperclip despite tacit knowledge of his contributions to war crimes. Another example is the case of Hubertus Strughold. He rose to academic fame and received the nickname “Father of Space Medicine”. A San Antonio library bore his name and a plaque was put on display to honor his scientific work in complete ignorance of his human experiments on concentration camp inmates. Needles to state that in both cases, the inconvenient, dark truth of their participation in Nazi war crimes eventually imbued and drowned these men’s careers. Although they were never held accountable.

The Paperclip extractions surrounding medicine and chemistry appear to dominate Jacobsen’s book. However the lines are blurred between the different areas of expertise of the German scientists. And the density of information opens a many rabbit holes for the curious history buff. One of the more captivating things about the entire program is its historical impact that can still be observed today. For example, the program went from its original call sign “Overcast” to “Paperclip” to “Defense Scientist Immigration Program” whereby the CIA renamed its involvement the “National Interest” program. This particular terminology recently reappeared in the Military Accessions to the Vital National Interest (MAVNI) program and later slightly amended during the State Department’s effort to facilitate travel for highly qualified applicants during COVID-19 pandemic imposed travel bans.  Furthermore, Operation Paperclip created the foundation for other highly classified, ethically and morally obscure intelligence operations such as “Operation Bluebird/Artichoke” or “Project MK-Ultra”. Another interesting facet to this entire program that is not discussed in the book is the difference in educational systems between the United States and Germany. To this day, I believe the state-sponsored approach to afford all citizens free access to education in Germany is advantageous over the American tuition-based approach that requires substantial financial support. It was a dominant factor to allow the early 20th century Germany to develop intercontinental rockets, advanced nerve agents and other ground-breaking technology. Then, the United States was not only lacking a competitive educational system but it lacked advanced military technology to keep up with the more progressive nations of the time.   

(The German rocket team at Fort Bliss, Texas, after World War II led by Dr. Wernher Von Braun. Source: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center photo/DefenseMediaNetwork)

Annie Jacobsen masterfully presents the moral dilemma the United States government had to resolve in the quickly evaporating environment following the allied victory over Nazi Germany. The well-reserached book is packed with historical facts, contemporary interviews, and portraits of person’s of interest, each material for a separate book or movie. While her writing style is concise and captivating, I found myself progressing slowly due to the aforementioned density of intriguing characters and circumstances that populate each page. This book sheds light on some of the toughest moral and ethical questions. Some of which are still unanswered today. How was it possible that our democratic government looked past the former commitment to Nazi Party ideology of countless scientists, a few even awarded the NSDAP’s Golden Party badge honoring their outstanding services to the Nazi Party or the Third Reich. Can US citizenship be bought by saving the nation millions in research? Was WWII all about extracting scientific and technological advantages at the price of admitting Nazi ideology to our educational and scientific institutions? 

I think the most uncomfortable takeaway from this book is the arbitrary character of the US government. An old German adage goes “Wes Brot is ess’ des Lied ich sing’” (who pays the piper calls the tune). Throughout history this arbitrary character of different US governments casted a shadow on American democracy and the price of freedom.