Have you considered a bilingual state of being?

Learning a second language is arguably humanity’s greatest art of seduction. Bill Gates recently noted that his lack of learning a second language was one of his greatest regrets in life.  Gates remarked that Mark Zuckerberg’s ability to enchant an entire room full of Chinese business students with an intermediate grasp of Mandarin was really impressive.

It shouldn’t take the one upsmanship of two billionaires to motivate anyone, but one can’t help but ask, “What do they know that you don’t?”

The Czech language has many wise proverbs, but one in particular reads, “Kolik jazyků znáš, tolikrát jsi člověkem.” which roughly translates to, “The more languages you know, the more human you are.”

Language is this amazing superpower that everyone takes for granted. Language learning rewards failure with humility, empathy, and resolve. Even with the most clumsy or misguided attempts, you’re rewarded with an opportunity to belong.

Yet, with the overwhelming allure of adventures with strangers and impressing people with your ability to order takeout, learning a foreign language is hard.

Really fucking hard.

I’m happy to report that efforts made in elevating my kimchi game and partying ajumma style keeps me in good company, often with those bearing the universal Korean relationship solvent known as soju.

My Korean practice helps me see the world in new ways. Studying it makes me happy. So much so that I wanted to share what I have learned with you, so that you too can enjoy performing minor feats of magic once you choose to pursue a second tongue.

Stop procrastinating, and adopt yourself into the ranks of true global citizenship, already.  A monolingual state of being is a life half lived.

Frequency: Essential Philosophy of Language Practice

How does one acquire a new language?

Above all else, you need to find a language and culture that interests you. There’s really no point in choosing a culture to assimilate into if you’re not a bit smitten. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in cultural metamorphosis little caterpillar, so seduce that muse.

You should also consider your tolerance for difficulty.

If you’re dead set on learning an East Asian language, you have to respect a significantly higher barrier to fluency. East Asian languages have an entirely different grammatical structure and alphabet than English. If you’re prone to self-sabotage and bouts of flakiness, you might want to stick to a Latin derivative.

Korean is slightly more accessible when compared to other East Asian languages in this regard. Thanks to egalitarian Sejong the Great, the Korean alphabet (known as Hangul) consolidated Korean language into less than two dozen characters, thereby replacing thousands of Chinese characters needed for literacy prior to its invention.

Thanks to his genius, Korean poses a significantly lower barrier to entry for reading and writing when compared to Japanese or Mandarin.

Unless you want to deep dive and practice Korean law, one can easily learn how to write Korean in a couple of days, and you can easily read syllable blocks within a month if you’re extremely lazy.

But doing the initial reconnaissance of basic reading and writing isn’t going to safeguard you from self sabotage. If you’re serious about this we have to discuss a strategy of commitment.

Three essential states of mind must be at the core of your practice, so that you can steel yourself from inevitable curse of unrealistic expectations.

You must:

Embrace the grind.

Embrace incremental improvement.

Embrace frequency.

Three things. Simple, right? If only it were simple.

Pursuing mastery of any new skill requires dedicated practice. If you’re not willing to suck up the discomfort of soul-sucking grammatical errors and marble-mouthed attempts at cocktail conversation, you’re only setting yourself up for failure.

Don’t procrastinate. Be realistic.

Commit to the grind and it will commit to you.

You will find that the grind rewards persistence with incremental improvement. The Japanese have this amazing word, “kaizen” that you should become familiar with. Kaizen is a philosophy of living (some of you might know it as a management style) that focuses on continual improvement.

Kaizen is a game of centimetres.

Kazien recognizes that there is no such thing as overnight success.

Fluency doesn’t happen overnight. Every small improvement in recollection, pronunciation, and comprehension should be celebrated.

Hell, for perspective’s sake, accept that there are probably new words you’re still discovering in English.

Small, glorious steps. No shortcuts.

The third part of the holy trinity to language fluency is frequency. Frequency always trumps intensity, and my practice of language learning places emphasis on repeated exposure. While its true that your retention and time-frame to fluency is proportional to the amount of time you invest in practice, the most important thing that you can do is focus on maximizing opportunities for exposure.

An easy way to practice frequency is to remind yourself that boredom is a choice.

If you’re stuck in commute, you can rock through some flash cards. Waiting in queue? Flashcards. Stuck on an airport concourse waiting for the plane to board? Flashcards. Going to waste some time watching television?

You guessed it, chump. Motherfucking flashcards.

Never miss an opportunity to replace idleness with exposure.

Got it? Good. Now we need to deep dive into the details of method.

Immersion: Acquiring the Five-Point-Synapse-Exploding Mind-Technique

We may not be able to plug you into the Matrix with a cortical modem yet grasshopper, but we have the next best thing, and it’s called immersion.

Frequency is paramount, but if you’re serious about closing the time to proficiency ratio you have to schedule time for immersion.

This means you need to log in time training in the altitudes of the mountain top, or at the very least, base camp.

Base camp! Where our training environment is filled with shitty metaphors related to computers and somewhat racist martial arts films!

We need to emphasize read and write operations.  Specifically, comprehension (reading and listening) and recall (writing and speaking).

Just as a drunken master might have you shin-kick the shit out of a forrest of thick bamboo to condition you for the Kumite, the path to acquiring the Five Point-Synapse-Exploding-Mind Technique is a character building exercise that will test your ability to strengthen the elasticity of mind.*

How many reeds of bamboo will you kick each day? How many open palm strikes on hot coals are you going to schedule? How many flashcards are you going to grind through? How many awkward conversations are you going to sheepishly participate in with native speakers?

Are you conditioned enough to avoid flaking out?

This step demands honesty with yourself. You want to make sure that you’re making a habit that is going to fit into your daily routine.

Language is a lifestyle.  It’s not about the acquisition of skill.  It’s about the time spent training in immersion.  Enough time to acquire proficiency.

Just as your body builds new red blood cells to cope with high altitude, your synapses will proliferate with prolonged exposure in the altitudes of your adopted language.

The cardinal rule to maintaining sanity is that you take time to acclimatize. Condition yourself.  You may want to revert back to the comforts your native language environment, but you have to fight this urge.

The siren song of giving up sounds an awful lot like procrastination. I can assure you that it’s symphony comes from the direct opposite direction of the summit.

And that is not your path.

Don’t compare yourself to the Sherpas. Native speakers have lived the entirety of their lives at high altitude, cake-walking across traverses and bare knuckling all sorts of impenetrable surfaces.

So don’t make that obvious mistake of masturbatory ego stroking.

Instead, choose the path of humility.  Absorb and accept.  In time you will eat, sleep, and breathe with comfort in the wilds of your target language.

Learning from the Polyglot-Cosmonauts who Have Gone Before Us

Before we can secure our drunken master language base camp with a bunch of sophisticated tools and bitchin’ moon-tents, we need to have a discussion about how we structure the time we spend there. There are several notorious polyglots who have have survived the gladiatorial arena of language learning, and we should learn from them.

First we borrow form the way of Khatzumoto.

Khatz blogs over at All Japanese All the Time (AJATT). While his blog is focused on learning Japanese, this shouldn’t deter anyone who wants to learn another language from borrowing liberally from his method. The Khatzumoto school of fluency is focused on complete immersion in the culture of your target language. This means procuring all sorts of native media (films, television, music, podcasts, etc.) and gestating symbiotically in a nutrient-sack of pop culture. Ideally, you would live in the country of language origin, but that is definitely not an option for most people.

His approach is nothing short of being unapologetically hardcore. It’s all summit. There is no base camp.

Complete immersion is definitely best practice and it is the fastest path to fluency. Yet, it’s probably not going to work for most people – primarily due to issues of proximity. If you’re like me and reside in North America, and you’re not studying Spanish – unless you are immersed in Korea, Duluth, Georgia, or LA’s Koreatown, proximity poses a challenge.

This shouldn’t discourage you.

With the advent of the internet, there is no reason why you can’t access content or native speakers. One can easily experience immersion on a daily basis. Scheduled time blocks of immersion paired with frequent recall exercises throughout the day is a potent linguistic drop kick.

Next, you should become familiar with Benny the Irish Polyglot of Fluent in 3 Months fame, as well as Gabriel Wyner, who authored the Fluent Forever method.

We will explore some of Benny’s hacks when we discuss how to structure the output of our adopted language, but first we should talk about the necessity of focusing on language fundamentals.

You can accelerate your path to fluency if you obsess over what most people take for granted. Legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson’s commitment to refining fundamental skills won eleven championships, and we can apply this often overlooked insight in how we approach our practice.

Ignoring fundamentals ultimately leads to habits that slow the pursuit of optimal performance. Once these habits take root, it takes five times as much energy to correct the learned bad behaviour. Sadly, this is where a lot of classroom instruction in language learning falls short. We must pay close attention to seemly benign things like pronunciation before we can drill grammar.

This is why I love Gabriel Wyner’s Fluent Forever. Wyner has lots of interesting hacks.  His method of designing flash cards for recalling grammar is ingenious, but I think that his best insights come from his musician-inspired practice. Wyner places heavy emphasis on pronunciation and listening drills prior to even touching grammar.

With language, perfecting something as fundamental as pronunciation accelerates fluency.

Wyner makes a comparison saying that there is no greater compliment to a native speaker than flawless pronunciation.

Pronunciation isn’t just language practice. It’s like being given a license to enchant.

Korean is a very difficult language to pronounce for native English speakers. If you’re learning Korean, once you’ve grasped how to read the Hangul, perfecting your pronunciation should be the next succulent, low hanging pear on your list.

Focusing on fundamentals may seem like a tedious exercise, but if you think about it, you are prioritizing a month’s worth of cautionary focus so you can avoid years of correcting the marble-mouthed mistakes of sloth.

Once you’re certain you have the fundamentals down, you’re going to move on to the next step and assimilate a lot of vocabulary and context.

In order to do that, we need to outfit you with equipment that will allow you to battle with the most diabolical hellspawn of linguistic inferno.

Ku-mi-te! Ku-mi-te!*

Tools and Content: Flash Cards, Chainsaw Arms, Necronomicons, and You

We’ve gotten you to the mountaintop, friend. We’ve trained you in the temples of the great polyglot sages. It’s time to do battle.

And if you want to succeed, you need to foil the best efforts of marketing executives and declare that Rosetta Stone is bullshit.

If you want to truly learn, you need to create your own tools.

Like many things in modern life, this is where software comes to the rescue.

There is one language app to rule them all, and that app’s name is Anki.

Anki is, by far, the best hack that you can implement into your practice. It’s the language learning equivalent of having demon-smiting chainsaw arms.

Anki is essentially a free flash card system that allows you to create intelligent flashcards. Anki actually logs your recollection of content and queues cards that you have trouble remembering.

A common rookie mistake made with Anki is to simply enter vocabulary without context. This behaviour is guaranteed to make you learn at a snail’s pace.

I maintain two separate Korean language decks. One deck consists of photograph-recall intensive cards. These cards have a picture along with their Korean phrase and grammatical blanks per Wyner’s instruction in Fluent Forever.

The second deck consists of Korean sentences collected in their unedited entirety, per Khatzumoto’s 10,000 sentences method.

The best part is that you get to aggregate vocabulary and context from my everyday life and subjects that you are already interested in.

Some people like to make a deck of the 1000 most frequently used words in Korean and commit them to memory first. You can lift vocabulary from meatspace compilations like TOPIK’s 6000 Korean Words or from vocab decks made by Viz-Ed. This is a good way to start but eventually you will want to level up and draw vocabulary from grammar books and website content.

It’s ok if you don’t understand everything you capture at first.  Comprehension will come with exposure and practice.

Beginning Korean learners should start with Talk to Me in Korean (TTMIK). Talk to Me in Korean is a mostly free and comprehensive study guide to all things Korean run by native Korean speakers. They have a lot of wholesome audio and video exercises, and can be followed on just about every form of social media imaginable.

If you like workbooks, you should check out the Integral Korean series, which has a series of books that will take you step by step from beginner to advanced speaker.

Once you start reaching an intermediate level of comprehension, you  eventually will want to go about your daily business and formulate usage exercises from your environment. Suddenly your entire household or local coffee shop becomes a language workshop, where you find yourself switching into the Korean registry of your mind every time that you look at your sofa or bicycle.

If you’re prone living dangerously, and enjoy practising the dark arts, I recommend the rather intense Korean: A Comprehensive Grammar by Jaehoon Yeon and Lucien Brown.

Grammar intimidates a lot of beginners but if you spend enough time learning a language, you quickly realize how useful it is.  An understanding grammar can give you an unparalleled mental registry for ad-hoc sentence structure and composition.  If you ever plan on learning more than two languages, grammar will save you time in the long run.

And yet the fact remains: you have to do the work. While you could easily find someone else’s Anki deck and download it, its far more important for you to take the time and actually create your own.

There is a huge difference between a shortcut and a hack. Shortcuts only lead to setbacks in the long term. Respect the difference.

Embrace the fundamentals.

Another useful tool is Evernote.  I have a specific Evernote folder where I keep a tagged index for each page from Korean: A Comprehensive Grammar. I use this as a quick reference for when I am writing sentences in Korean and need to quickly determine usage that doesn’t instantly register when jarring my memory. I’ve also taken the time to log each grammatical sample sentence from the book into its own Anki deck, complete with chapter ID tags for frequency exercises.

This book alone has probably shaved months of time off of my journey to fluency.

At some point you are also going to need a righteous dictionary. And if you are studying Korean, you are in luck because Korean portals of mega-culture Naver and Daum have created several digital miracles.

Naver has an outstanding English-Korean Dictionary web app that I usually keep open on a separate monitor or split-screen whenever I am writing or doing direct translation practice. I almost feel guilty using it, because I have never used a better dictionary in my life.

Both Naver and Daum have an extensive catalogue of Web Toons, which are essentially a scroll-down version of manga. There are thousands of different Web Toons that you can choose from, and they are an addictive way to practice Korean fundamentals, onomatopoeia, and basic language patterns.

Both portals are a one-stop, bottomless supply of Korean flavoured content.

Output: Adventures in Being Adorably Awkward

Now comes the difficult part. We’ve discussed an entire constellation of resources that should provide a firm foundation of grammar and pronunciation, but we haven’t managed the output side of the equation. Learning grammar is important, but at best, grammar is merely a framework for living language.

Rules get broken all the time. Just look at the constant state of amorphous flux that is slang. Nirvana will be well outside of your grasp if you don’t cultivate that important sixth-sense that harmonizes grammar with style.

Ultimately, output is your only measurable indication of efficacy. Hard-wiring those subconscious synapses that exist somewhere between your eardrums and your taste-buds requires getting comfortable with discomfort.

You have to get used to being adorably awkward.

Accept that you can’t learn a language without actively speaking it, and increasing discomfort by scheduling frequent speaking practice is going to force you to recall what you have learned.

One immutable law that governs bilingual progress is that one can’t judge quality of study without having regular conversations with native speakers.

This might intimidate you introverts out there. It’s ok to be nervous, but it’s not ok to self sabotage yourself into imagining all manner of irrational rejection scenarios that play out in your mind. Thanks to the Internet, there are more ways than ever before to interact with people on the opposite side of the planet. People who want to learn English just as badly as you want to learn your target language.

And wouldn’t you know it, they are just as adorably awkward and nervous as you are.

Enter the miracle network, Lang-8.  I’ve met hundreds of native Korean speakers on this platform and we exchange messages and grammar corrections on a daily basis. If I find that I have some interests in common with another user after a few months, we might exchange Kaokao talk IDs or Line Messenger IDs and take our conversations into the ever-present mobile cloud.

For the coolest of the cool, we might even set something up over FaceTime or Skype but that is rare due to the often unmanageable time difference.

If you do go down the route of video chat with your new found friends, I recommend viewing some of the conversation practice videos that Benny the Irish Polyglot has put up on his website. The effort that he puts into structuring his online practice sessions is admirable, no matter how badly he appears to struggle at first.

Persistence pays dividends.

There are some things that you should keep in mind before scheduling time with your new found friend. Find strength in the schedule. If you predefine a timeframe, say 15 minutes for each person to practice speaking in a 30 minute chat, it helps structure the conversation a bit more. Trust me, listening is important but it is where one can get comfortable. Its important that you and your language partner reciprocate speaking roles.

You should determine the subjects or language hangups you each want to practice before hand.

Benny recommends compiling a “cheat sheet” that he keeps close by in case he gets stuck on specific grammar points prior to starting each session. This is definitely a hack you will want to use.  If you’ve been following protocol, there should be something you have identified that you need to work on each week that prevents you from fluid recall.

In summary, that’s the gist.  I wish you luck, internet sojourner.  Perhaps one day will join me at the local norebang, where we will slayfest in a soju-fueled tornado of K-pop greatest hits.

Remember, when in doubt, kumite.

Ku-mi-te! Ku-mi-te!*

*Oh, Bloodsport.  You’re clearly no Best of the Best. 화이팅!


Tattoo: A Tale of Courage and Sorrow

by Jason Patočka on January 19, 2015


One can’t be a student of Korean culture and language for very long without stumbling into the atrocities committed against women during the Imperial Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula during the mid-20th Century. It’s a perennial hot topic in East Asian affairs, and a case study that rivals Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness in depicting humanity at its most barbaric and monstrous worst.

There are many Japanese people who acknowledge horrors of the past, just as there are Americans who grieve for the innocent who suffered in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Nationalistic denial knows no cultural boundaries.

Yet, nearly three generations of people have come of age since the end of the Imperial Japanese occupation of Korea and Eastern China, and there remain thousands of women who still maintain a living memory of kidnapping, torture, maiming, and forced sexual slavery.

Even now they continue to be accused of lying by hard-line Japanese nationalists and the politicians who represent them.

A recent New York Times article examined the latest efforts of Japan’s face saving attempts to white-wash history.

With the news of the latest denial agenda fresh in my mind, coming across Park Sun-woong’s manga, “Tattoo” today compelled me to share it with you, despite its graphic and gut-wrenching illustration of Jung Ok-sun’s indescribable suffering.

The voices of those who survived need to be heard and acknowledged, lest we find ourselves condemned to repeat this dark chapter in human history.

You can read the Korean translation of Tattoo here, or grudgingly endure it’s English translation. Be warned, if you need a trigger disclaimer now is your chance to avert your attention elsewhere.

Extra: Not depressed enough? Check out the animated project Herstory.


Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

by Jason Patočka on January 6, 2015

martian-cover-2_3861A hard reality of my existence is accepting that most people don’t share my goal of opening up a robot brothel at the base of Mars’ tallest inactive volcano, Olympus Mons. I’m sorry to report that after reading Andy Weir’s exceptional book, The Martian, I’m starting to reconsider my post-retirement career as Mars’ version of a robot-hustling Heff incarnate.

Whatever you do, don’t let my lifestyle choices deter you from reading this fascinating narrative.

While the story of a man stranded on a dessert island is nothing new, there is no island of isolation comparable to a failed mission to Mars.  This tale of a shipwrecked astronaut will leave you holding your breath while it defies the belief suspending hallmarks of the sci-fi genre. Weir skillfully grounds science fiction in the realities of actual rocket and planetary science while lovingly brushing the mullet of  your inner MacGuyver.

Not once did I have to bend science to conform to a plot while reading this sci-fi novel.  This is quite the feat.

While the narrative could easily descend into navel gazing and exploring the dynamics of friendship with a volleyball, it avoids that pitfall by exploring the tension between the protagonist’s technical ingenuity and the hostile reality of an alien world.  Weir takes the man vs. nature storyline to its contemporary extreme.

This novel may have jettisoned my entrepreneurial dream of managing a crater-based opium den out of an airlock. But I think that is a fair price to pay for getting swept away with the romance of human exploration and heroic survival in the face of insurmountable odds.

True, the atmosphere may flash-boil my blood, but the prospect of being the first person to make moonshine from martian potatoes in a little juke-joint overlooking the Valles Marineris?

One can dream, dear readers. One can dream.

The Martian was a true pleasure. Download that shit already.


You smelt it, you dealt it.

The other day, I had the tortuous experience of sitting through a surreal form of office space limbo called the modern meeting.

Did you know that in nature, if you get close enough to a black hole, theoretically you pass a point of no return where even light can’t escape?

That’s called an event horizon, and it has an analog in business.

And it will be the death of us all.

The meeting singularity knows no boundaries. Its cold, calculating and indiscriminate. If there is even the smallest hairline fissure in your general expectations of management, before you know it – the ship buckles, and attention span vaporizes in a cloud of brainfarts.

There are no escape pods.

That my friend, is a terrible fate.

In the early stages, this lack of focus can be totally innocent. Yet if left unchecked it will metastasize into a whole host of other potentially critical business issues like morale and bureaucratic friction. If there are experienced or influential people around the table, it costs you credibility.

Unprofessional behavior adds cost.

As such, in order to safeguard yourself from being ambushed by a galaxy swallowing meeting, you really should apply meeting vetting criteria.

Lets load for bear, shall we?

The 6 Rules of Meeting Validation

All meetings that I attend need to adhere to the following universal guidelines. Sometimes there are exceptions to these rules but I try to make sure exceptions are few and far between. Much of this came from the excellent book Rework, which I strongly recommend.

1. The Rule of Minimal Viable Meetings

The first rule of having successful meetings is to have as few meetings as possible.

Encourage colleagues and students to become problem solving prodigies.  Lots of times meetings are called because we don’t empower people to solve their own problems.  They feel like they have to insulate themselves within a chain of command.

Abdicated decisions are not decisions.

Give them the confidence they need to solve their problems independently.  Let them be the first person that attempts to diffuse the bomb.

Its why you hired them.

If they get stumped, have them contact an expert.  If it escalates, it escalates.

This initial firewall is worth its weight in diamonds.

2. The Rule of Explicit Problems

Meetings are never called to gather consensus and identify what the problem is. Meetings are only called to remedy specific problems and figure out the why behind them.

Being asked out to Power Point Prom is about as much fun as it was being asked out to actual prom. In hindsight, you will regret it.

Figure it out, zero in on what you are going to solve and get your post-mortem on.

3. The Walkout Rule

If the meeting organizer can’t explain the the meeting’s objective in the first five minutes of the meeting, everyone has the right to walk out.

Flipping the bird is optional, but encouraged.

4. The Rule of Professional Courtesy

I never cease to be completely floored when people ask for time without presenting an agenda.

To be included:

Who: If they’re strangers, introductions and hyperlinks to bio’s, blogs or LinkedIn profiles might be nice. You can also use this time to ensure you have the right skills at the table.

What: What is the explicit problem you are going to solve?

Where: If its off site, locations on Google maps kick ass.  If it’s the weekend it better not be in a boardroom. Unless you’re a sadist.

When: See 20 minute rule.

Why: This is your value proposition.

How: This is where you outline discussion on solving said problem and assign tasks.

Send it to everyone at least a day in advance. Obvious, really.

No agenda. No meeting.  Period.

5. The 20 Minute Rule

The vast majority of meetings should take no more than 20 minutes.

GE CEO emeritus Jack Welch disagrees with this.  If he had his way, he would prefer that you marinate, take your time to get to know people, and point out problems related to the human aspects of managing purely through the metric of efficiency.

There is some truth to this. Sometimes there are exceptions to this rule, but they should be outliers and not the norm. Finding balance is an art.  Error towards respecting people’s time.

Don’t underestimate the power of time saving tools like g-chat and Asana.  This isn’t to say that old fashioned face-to-face interaction isn’t important, but virtual tools save time and resource overhead.

In either scenario, you have to account for minds to be present, attentive, and focused.  Brevity doesn’t allow attention spans to wander.

6. The Rule of Empty Suits.

The meeting organizer needs to ensure that the right skill sets are present.  You perform surgery with surgeons, anesthesiologists, and surgical nurses.  You don’t perform open heart surgery with interpretive dance artists.

If they don’t need to be there, don’t invite them.

Everyone in the meeting needs to take notes and everyone leaves the meeting with something to do.

If they don’t have a task at the end of the meeting, you never should have invited them in the first place.  That’s on you.

Take time to effectively assess and vet everyone’s contribution towards the desired goal.  Everyone will appreciate this.

Don’t be a Twonk

These guidelines were totally absent on my most recent fated afternoon.  I did my best not to look enraged but that’s only because I was daydreaming about being hoodwinked and enslaved by cenobites in a less painful dimension of existence.

Despite monopolizing an entire business unit’s time, within five minutes it was clear that everyone’s time was going to be wasted.

The people gathered around the table didn’t have the talent needed to tackle the problem and only one person was taking notes. One poor sucker was dialed in via conference call. Only two people walked away with an assignment.

What was that assignment you ask? They had to put together a subsequent meeting to follow up.

All that time invested, and nothing to show for it.

Avoiding all of this is easy.  All you have to do is send a link to this article next time you get asked to sit in a room where you know your very atoms will become speghettified by the sheer weight of despair.

Enjoy thy sanity.


Just like crack, reading ruins everything.

Unfortunately that tradeoff is the grand bargain for not being a complete and total fucking rube.   Ignorance may be bliss, but ignorance is often an essential ingredient in irrelevance.

Those things don’t jive too well with ambitious people.  They really don’t jive if you aspire to the Sisyphean exercise of building great organizations or meaningful things.

In order to help other people learn from my own catastrophes of ambition, I’ve decided to jot down a list of what I like to call the ‘Entrepreneurial Crack Stack.’  A collection of works I really wish I would have read a long, long time ago.

Perhaps more importantly, a collection of works I wish I had applied a long time ago.

No secrets here.  These books show up on a lot of MBA must read lists, but they’re on mine for a reason.  They’re a litmus test to separate very serious people from mere pretenders.  They could have saved me a lot of time and money in the past.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

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Sand Hill Road golden child Eric Ries’ book is a really great introduction into running a nimble, focused, and burn conscious start-up.  If you’ve never heard of Minimal Viable Product (MVP) or want to integrate agile development / business practices more cohesively across your teams, this is your pilot’s manual.

Four Steps tot he Epiphany by Steven Gary Blank

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Steve Blank’s start-up opus is about the closest thing you will find to a Rosetta Stone for validating product-market fit and building a product that people actually want.  This is a vastly different endeavour from building a product that you think people want.  Building something nobody wants after all, is quite expensive.  The Stanford entrepreneurship guru also has a follow up work called the Startup Owner’s Manual that is less academic and equally outstanding.

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

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Also known as the quintessential butcher’s guide to slaughtering the sacred cows of the cube farm.  Vampiric meetings getting in the way of productive work?  Stake those blood-suckers with 5 simple rules, get things done.  Trying to juice artificial scale with some venture capital when you don’t have organic cash flow?  Don’t do that.   Concise and to the point, a must read for fixing business-as-usual Fortune 500 clusterfuckery.

Bargaining for Advantage by G. Richard Shell

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Negotiation is an essential part of life.  Most people are horrible at it.  This isn’t a book about simply identifying when negotiations occur. Rather,  it provides a strategic reference that spans across formal and informal negotiation processes.  In my opinion, strong negotiation skills are one of the key criteria in determining what separates a young professional from a young executive.  You’ll easily use it’s insights everyday.  When was the last time you needed to organize consensus?  Establish partnerships?  Face down a team of smug lawyers?  Thought so.

Influence by Robert B. Cialdini

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Not just any book on the art of persuasion, but a study of psychological factors that automate compliance behaviour in your fellow human beings.  Really fascinating research that plumbs the depths of confounding human nature.  At the very least, read it to fail-safe yourself.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout

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These ‘laws’ are an essential checklist for any business or organization that wants to build a scalable resonance with people.  Marketing isn’t an afterthought; it’s a core design issue for everything that you do.  If you like logarithmic business growth, its best not to blithely defy the marketing equivalents of gravity, thermodynamics, and the likelihood of the Cubs winning the World Series in your lifetime.

I’m fully aware that these books only highlight broad business processes, and that it doesn’t cover the more nuanced engineering intensive actions of physically building a product.  Yet I don’t know of a single engineer, coalition builder, or technical founder who wouldn’t benefit from the wisdom contained here.

Go dare mighty things.  Build something amazing.

*About the topic-unrelated lead photograph: Fred Korematsu is a pipe smoking American badass.  Educate yourself.