Friday, December 21, 2012

Some say the world will end in fire

Prayers for Arsenal

Like any self-respecting -- and these days, it has to be said, long-suffering -- Arsenal fan, I've read (and re-read) Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby's funny and beautiful homage to football and Arsenal Football Club. Indeed, I own a copy, which I happen to be looking at right now. It's one of my most prized possessions. How could it not be? The first line alone is priceless: "I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it." (He was 11 at the time.) Fever Pitch was published exactly 20 years ago (in 1992) and was this year elevated to the rarefied ranks of the Penguin Modern Classics. Hmph. Took them long enough. Mr. Hornby recently revisited his old hunting ground in Pray: Notes on the 2011/2012 Football Season, a much shorter work (50 pages, as opposed to 239). He's lost none of his touch: "Arsenal's catastrophe at Old Trafford [an 8-2 drubbing at the hands of our arch-rivals, Manchester United], however, the worst defeat of my lifetime -- the worst defeat in the lifetimes of any Arsenal fan under the age of 115 -- could only partly be explained by money..."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ba Captain

Ba Captain ("Ba" with a soft B is the Bemba honorific) aka Christopher Katongo, captain of Zambia's national football team, was voted the 2012 BBC African Footballer of the Year this week.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What is Potential?

Potential is:
  • Dormant ability.
  • Reserved power.
  • Untapped strength.
  • Unused success.
  • Hidden talents.
  • Capped capability.
  • All you can be but have not yet become.
  • All you can do but have not yet done.
  • How far you can reach but have not yet reached.
  • What you can accomplish but have not yet accomplished. 
Potential is unexposed ability and latent power.
-- Dr. Myles Munroe

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Who's The Master?

2013 will see a battle royal for supremacy of the global smartphone and tablet markets. Should be interesting.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Bible On Management: An Excellent Spirit

"Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm." - Daniel 6:3 (KJV)

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Day with Drucker

In December of 1994, Jim Collins pulled up to Peter Drucker's house ...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Tapster

Recently reviewed by Bill Gates:

Tap Dancing to Work 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Noblest Nobel

My favourite Nobel prize this year was in the category of economics. It was awarded, in part, for empirical work on market design by Alvin E. Roth, an engineer turned economist (fittingly enough).

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The tide of leadership

"Everything rises and falls on leadership" - John C. Maxwell

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Bible On Management: Recruiting A Players

"These be the names of the mighty men whom David had: ..." - 2 Samuel 23:8a (KJV)

2 Samuel 23:8-39 lists 37 "mighty men" who helped King David achieve great success. To achieve great success, you have to recruit A players to your cause.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Design Lessons

Steve Jobs and Philippe Starck collaborated on the design of the recently launched superyacht Venus.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Apple 4.0

Just published: Bloomberg BusinessWeek interview with Tim Cook, Apple's CEO in the fourth major phase of Apple's life.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The wealthiest spot on earth

"The wealthiest spot on this planet is not the oil fields of Kuwait, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia. Neither is it the gold nor diamond mines of South Africa, the uranium mines of the Soviet Union or the silver mines of Africa. Though it may surprise you, the richest deposits on our planet lie just a few blocks from your house. They rest in your local cemetery or graveyard. Buried beneath the soil within the walls of those sacred grounds are dreams that never came to pass, songs that were never sung, books that were never written, paintings that never filled a canvas, ideas that were never shared, visions that never became reality, inventions that were never designed, plans that never went beyond the drawing board of the mind and purposes that were never fulfilled. Our graveyards are filled with potential that remained potential." -- Dr. Myles Munroe

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Bible On Management: Succession Planning

"And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." - 2 Timothy 2:2 (KJV)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Dear Bill Emmott

On 1 October 1994, The Economist published a profile of Peter F. Drucker as part of an ongoing series on seminal management thinkers. On 12 October 1994, Drucker responded with a long and enlightening letter to Bill Emmott, the then editor of The Economist.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An African Start the Week

On the 19th of March 2012, Andrew Marr hosted an African Start the Week (BBC Radio 4) with Nadine Gordimer, Jack Mapanje and Richard Dowden.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Bible On Management: Delegation

Moses' father-in-law replied, "What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone." - Exodus 18: 17-18 (NIV).

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Art (and Science) of the Start

Excellent meditation by Paul Graham on the art (and science) of generating start-up ideas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


"I don't understand," said Thorin, and Bilbo felt he would have liked to say the same. The explanation did not seem to explain.
-- J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Bible On Management: The Key to Productivity

"You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours." - Psalm 128: 2 (NIV)

The key to a productive life is work.

Friday, November 16, 2012

2012 Word of the Year

My 2012 word of the year is "pivot". My earliest recollection of encountering this word was in primary school science lessons mumblety-mumble years ago. The topic, as I recall, was simple machines and "pivot" was used synonymously with "fulcrum". And it was invariably a noun. This year I've heard the word "pivot" being used in various contexts, including tech entrepreneurship and politics. And always as a verb.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fault Lines

Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

- Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The most important thing in communication

"The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.'' - Peter F. Drucker

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Manage It Like Fergie

Prof. Anita Elberse analyses some of Sir Alex Ferguson's management and leadership secrets.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Bible On Management: Wealth Creation

"For it is [God] who gives you the ability to produce wealth."
- Deuteronomy 8:18 (NIV)

Wealth is not a naturally occurring phenomenon; it must be produced or created, not merely acquired of accumulated.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Magnanimous In Defeat

Whatever your political views, you have to admire the grace with which Mitt Romney publicly conceded defeat in this week's US presidential election. It's far easier to win with grace than it is to lose with grace, to be modest in victory than it is to be magnanimous in defeat.


Thursday, November 08, 2012

Reaching Out To Meet Human Needs

At the May 20th 2012 Commencement of Morehouse College, Strive Masiyiwa, one of Africa's most distinguished entrepreneurs and philanthropists, was conferred with the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. In his address to the graduating class, Dr. Masiyiwa spoke on the secret of true success:

That Africa [the emerging Africa] reminds me of what a great man of God [T. L. Osborn] once told me. He said: "You know, if you really want to be a success, identify a human need and reach out to meet it." [...] In 1994, 70% of the African people [...] had never heard a telephone ring. I didn't say had used one, I said had never heard it ring. That was a human need. I knew as a young engineer, not long since my college days, that we had to change that. We had the technology to do it, the resources were out there, it was a human need. We didn't wake up and say we want to make billions of dollars; we said we want to extend telecommunications to all the peoples of Africa. And I wrote it on our boards and I told our people and I said: "Our mission is to provide telecommunications to all the people of Africa."

Today, I can report to you that nearly 70% of the African people have a telephone [...] You have a charge [...] to meet [human] needs. Perhaps you'll make money along the way, but I know something: If you reach out to meet the needs, you will wear the crown."
See 1:40:50 - 1:53:40 in the commencement video:


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

How Mo Ibrahim built Celtel

From the October 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review:

How Mo Ibrahim built Celtel from scratch into one of the largest mobile operators in Africa.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The best way to become a millionaire

The best way to become a millionaire is to start off as a billionaire and start an airline.

- Sir Richard Branson

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Bible On Management: People before Processes

And [Jesus] said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath. - Mark 2:27 (KJV)

Friday, November 02, 2012

Ronnie Chan: Seeing it and telling it as it is

I enjoyed Susan Li's recent interview with Ronnie Chan. For me, the most outstanding executive quality Chan exhibited in the interview was intellectual integrity: the ability to see it and tell it as it really is.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Bible On Management: The Power of Vision

"Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint." - Proverbs 29:18a (ASV)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Quantum Africa (Guest Post by Chanda Chisala)

This guest post is an essay by my friend Chanda Chisala, Founder and President of Zambia Online. It was written for and first published as the preface to G. Pascal Zachary's latest book "Hotel Africa: The Politics of Escape". It deserves the widest possible circulation.

QUANTUM AFRICA By Chanda Chisala

Sometimes when I feel like I need to stimulate my brain a little bit, I read some of the latest confusions in the field of quantum mechanics. Or, if there's nothing twisted enough there, I pick up a long article on Africa by Gregg Pascal Zachary or some other Africa expert, such as James Ferguson, the Stanford University anthropologist.

The reason is simple: I believe "African Studies" is the most complex (if not most daring) subject of study ever invented by the social sciences, and I know that anyone who is crazy enough to choose this as his subject of major interest for the rest of his life has to be somewhere on the border of genius and insanity. Their intellectual writings thus carry a feel of genuine art at times, as they focus their minds with passionate intensity on a subject that refuses to yield to easy generalizations, and hence their explosive, energizing value!

Before Zachary diversified into the intractable Africa question, he had reached the top of the journalism world in the United States, having been a senior writer for The Wall Street Journal and a columnist for The New York Times, in large part covering that most complex of subjects: technology, innovation and the interplay between these and political economy. His talent was to simplify such complex forces and interactions for the general public. He even wrote a book about the life and times of the most significant electrical engineer in American history, Vannevar Bush, and another book describing in human language the development of the Windows Operating System by Microsoft engineers. It seems that when Zachary had no greater challenges in the world of journalism, when there was no harder story for his razor-sharp mind to understand and simplify for the general public, it was natural for his insatiable mind to drive him to attempt demystifying the one world that has shattered the most analytical egos: Africa.

What afflicted Zachary, it seems to me, was similar to what befell Microsoft's Bill Gates when he finally left the world of solving hard technology problems, after reaching the peak of that world, and then decided to dedicate the rest of his life to the depressing world of (trying to solve) African health problems. The paths of these two adventurers – refugees from the cosmos of Silicon Valley – even crossed once when Zachary was consulted by the Gates Foundation on various research projects on Africa to help with the communication aspect of their foundation among the people of this continent. That's how I met him in Zambia (as one of the small players on the local media scene).

Although Gates and Zachary are connected to generations of Westerners – in Africa we just call them "whites" – who have always felt some moral compunction about living in a world of material abundance amidst the indigence of other people on the same planet, they have differentiated themselves by taking a radically new approach: they actually want to understand Africa first. That apparently obvious idea is in fact an unprecedented innovation. Other whites thought (and most still do) that it was enough to simply throw money at Africa, because there is really nothing complex about that poor "country"!

This old approach assumes that "Africa" is just one monolithic culture, and if there are any cultural differences among the Africans at all, they are too few and too insignificant to make any difference on how to deal with them. This is probably true about most places of the world (it is even quite true about African American communities), but it is definitely not true about this particular continent. The depth of cultural complexity can be seen from the sheer number of unique ethnic groups (72 in Zambia alone) and the shocking differences among the languages (even among ethnic groups that originally migrated from the same places). Google Translator has not made any steps in codifying these languages to help foreigners understand African tongues (or Africans to understand other Africans), because it is a task that would be too expensive for the multibillion dollar company. This is why a person who seriously throws himself into studying African societies has to be – how should we put it – interesting.

The only equivalent in complexity I can think of in the natural sciences is an area of physics called quantum mechanics. What kind of person dedicates his life to such a convoluted subject that it confused Professor Albert Einstein? It has to be a very "interesting" person indeed.

And this reference to quantum mechanics is not a random analogy. Whereas classical physics looks at normal objects and can establish their specific measurements and motions with simple formulas when certain forces are applied on them, quantum physics decides to look at these objects at a greater level of detail – the level of sub-atomic particles – and finds that all that formulaic certainty suddenly disappears. A crisis of confidence among scientists ensued from the discovery that the best they can say about where such an object will be is just a probability – which is a respectable way of saying that physics had pretty much become (at best) intelligent guesswork. Albert Einstein, the godfather of the classical physics world, was concerned that his field could lose the objectivity of mathematical predictability it had held since at least Isaac Newton. Up until his deathbed he was still trying to find a simple classical formulation that would restore the infallible confidence of physicists even at that level of detail, because "God does not play dice."

In Africa, God does apparently play dice. When one goes on the ground to study African people, they soon discover that there is no such thing as "Africa." The concept they held in their head suddenly disappears. Every place is different. And even places within places are different, sometimes in very fundamental and surprising ways. The people may think differently, behave differently, value different things, and so on, not just from country to country, but even within each country. Africa is diversity on steroids: it is diverse diversity.

And like our quantum physics problems, this is not limited to space alone, but even extends to time. When you return to that place after you publish your book about it, you might not recognize it. Or you might. Some African societies are very susceptible to external influences and changes, some are not so malleable – and yet even that can change (are you still with me?)

When Catholic missionaries first arrived in the Great Lakes region of modern-day Rwanda in the late 19th century, their message of salvation was wholeheartedly embraced by the Hutus. This probably gave the missionaries a nice little formula on what to say to "Africans" and what to expect. But when they went among the Tutsis in the same area, they were baffled to see the same message (and method) totally rejected. Before you make a conclusion about the atheistic personality of Tutsis from this historical fact, you should also be informed that today Tutsis are among the most religious people in Africa (at least the last time I checked, that is!)

So does this mean that no one can ever make any general statement about Africa at all? I think that someone can make sufficiently general statements about Africa as long as they have enough experience among Africans to know the limits of their generalization, both in space (where it is true) and time (whether it is still true). It is here more than anywhere else that some sort of Popperian humility is imperative.

But it is ultimately like any other area of expertise. Those with the most experience are likely to make the most correct judgments (and yes, judgment is ultimately about probability). Following Malcolm Gladwell's rule on expertise, there has to be a certain minimum number of hours (years) spent spent among a certain minimum number of African groups that should enable someone to become more proficient in their judgments (and predictions) of Africans in general, while keeping in mind that it is also a continent of many black swans (no pun intended). What has been underrated in the past is just how complex this subject is and how much experience is required before anyone can say something intelligent about Africa.

The real experts on Africa have spent many years of deep interaction with different societies of Africa (even I, an African living in Africa, do not really qualify). When you meet this rare group of humans with such ample experience, it is always astonishing to witness the level of accuracy with which they constantly explain aspects of your own (African) country. Of course they are not always perfect, but like a grandmaster of chess (whose level of play also resembles art), their intuition has been honed into lightening-quick judgment calls from the endless number of questions they have asked in their African peregrinations.

Gregg Pascal Zachary comes from that endangered species of journalists who sincerely ask questions because they really do not know the answer. Many modern journalists start with an answer – "the" answer – and then devise the questions (and sometimes the "sources") that are likely to confirm it, a trend that is probably as culpable for the slow death of traditional journalism in the West as Google is. These modern journalists could not possibly do proper African field work because the first rule in the manual is that one has to check his own ideology (whether conservative or liberal) at the airport, especially if one is not psychologically prepared to witness events that will certainly eviscerate some important tenets of that neat ideology.

In Zachary's work you see many times when he has to bring out a fact that you know does not support a conclusion he holds, but he reports it anyway, and then wrestles with its meaning. He even exposes the misinformation reported by some other lesser journalists who happen to falsify aspects of a story in order to sell a neater conclusion, and one that he would actually love to be true. It is this brutally honest, “scientific” approach to journalism that has qualified him for this arduous task of subjecting Africa to traditional investigative journalism at the quantum level.

Enjoy his art.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Advise, Sir Richard

Sir Richard Branson writes a weekly column for Entrepreneur magazine in which he provides advice and answers to entrepreneurs.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Be the best in the world at SOMETHING

[We] must head out to do our jobs so well that nobody could do them better. No matter what this job is, you must decide to do it well. Do it so well that the living, the dead, or the unborn can’t do it better. If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Raphael painted pictures; sweep streets like Michelangelo carved marble; sweep streets like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: “Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.”
If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill,
Be a shrub in the valley—but be
The best shrub on the side of the hill.

- "Some Things We Must Do", Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Born in black and white

This is an actual conversation Your Humble Servant (hereinafter YHS) had with His Son (hereinafter  HS) recently:

HS: Dad, was I born in black and white?

YHS (puzzled): What do you mean?

HS: I've seen on TV how in the past, the world used to be in black and white.

YHS (amused and relieved): Well ...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Bible On Management: Interpersonal Skills

"A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger." - Proverbs 15:1 (KJV)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Nobel Pursuits

The 2012 Nobel Prize Winners

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Corner Office

Corner Office is a weekly feature in The New York Times in which a different chief executive is interviewed each week by Adam Bryant; he started the feature in March 2009. It's a fascinating set of interviews and interviewees from all sectors of life.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why are you here?

In February 2008, Steve Jobs gave an extensive interview to Betsy Morris in Kona, Hawaii, where he was on vacation with his family. One of the topics he discussed was his approach to finding talent:

"When I hire somebody really senior, competence is the ante. They have to be really smart. But the real issue for me is, Are they going to fall in love with Apple? Because if they fall in love with Apple, everything else will take care of itself. They'll want to do what's best for Apple, not what's best for them, what's best for Steve, or anybody else.

"Recruiting is hard. It's just finding the needles in the haystack. We do it ourselves and we spend a lot of time at it. I've participated in the hiring of maybe 5,000-plus people in my life. So I take it very seriously. You can't know enough in a one-hour interview. So, in the end, it's ultimately based on your gut. How do I feel about this person? What are they like when they're challenged? Why are they here? I ask everybody that: 'Why are you here?' The answers themselves are not what you're looking for. It's the meta-data."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Just out: The World Bank's 2013 World Development Report. The theme is Jobs. The report is full of fascinating facts and insights. It has already been elevated to my list of classic texts.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Old dogs, new tricks

So: what can a bunch of middle-aged guys possibly know about newfangled cloud-based applications and services? Quite a lot apparently: Workday.

Monday, October 15, 2012

2012 IIAG

The 2012 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) was launched today.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Seasonal Inspiration

Question: Which entrepreneur and creator of what iconic brand inspired Steve Jobs in his development of the Apple Retail Store?

Answer: The Jewish Canadian entrepreneur Isadore Sharp, creator of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. Carmine Gallo tells the full story.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Biko and the Tough Alchemy of Africa

Ben Okri commemorating the 35th anniversary (12th September 2012) of the death of Bantu Stephen Biko:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

There Was a Country

Just out by Chinua Achebe:
There Was A Country

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Strength and Adversity

If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012



"Life is like a snowball. The important thing is finding wet snow and a really long hill."
- Warren E. Buffett

From the Hardcover edition

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bond, Zambian Bond

Zambia sold its first ever dollar-denominated bond to international investors last week. It was a stunning debut.

Friday, September 21, 2012


The Descendants is the best movie I've seen in a very long time.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A simple self-management technique

The single most important task of an executive is to manage himself. But how, exactly, does one manage oneself? Peter F. Drucker gave us some guiding principles and a few practical techniques.

I recently discovered a very simple, practical self-management technique that, for want of a better term, I call auto-consultation. It means, as one might guess from its composition, to both consult with and consult for oneself. In other words, you are both the consultee and the consultant. Here's how it works in three simple steps:

Step 1: Describe the problem (consultee perspective)

Step 2: Design the solution (consultant perspective)

Step 3: Take/apply your own advice (combined perspective)

Try it.

The Decider

Michael Lewis has just published a fascinating portrait of Barack Obama's management style.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Measuring Your Life

I was already aware of Clay Christensen's new book, but a friend recommended it to me so strongly that it went right to the top of my wishlist:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Great Scot!

At long last:

Andy Murray

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Keep on Dreamin'

It must be borne in mind that the tragedy in life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn't a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is sin.
- Dr. Benjamin E. Mays

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012


That's the only way I can describe this:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Age of Insight

Eric Kandel has lived a long and extraordinary life. He began his career as an intellectual historian and, via various fascinating stops along the way, including medicine and psychoanalysis, became one of the world's leading neuroscientists. Now he has written a long and extraordinary book which weaves together many of the (apparently) disparate strands of his life. It's on my wishlist:

From the Hardcover edition

Friday, August 10, 2012

Physics and Finance

Never the twain shall meet? Perhaps not.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Knots and Quantum Theory

Edward Witten, Charles Simonyi Professor in the School of Natural Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), is unusual in that he is both a first-rate mathematician and a first-rate theoretical physicist. In recent work on the surprising linkages between knot theory and quantum physics, Witten demonstrates both these capabilities as well as a third one: he is an excellent expositor both in print and in person:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

When Charlie met...

Charlie Rose recently sat down and had an interesting conversation with Marc Andreessen. Key topics included: innovation, tech entrepreneurship, philanthropy and venture capital.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sunday, July 08, 2012

100 reasons to be a scientist

From the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP): Not quite 100 personal accounts of the joys of scientific careers.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Of Higgs and bosons

In his essay "Physics and reality" (see endnote), Einstein observed that the fact that the world of our sense experiences is comprehensible is a miracle. By "comprehensible" Einstein meant that the inner workings of the physical world (or what he called "the world of our sense experiences") can be understood and explained by rational means (or "thinking", as he put it so simply and beautifully). Yesterday's announcement (4 July 2012) of definitive experimental evidence of the so-called Higgs boson was yet another manifestation of this most wonderful of miracles. That a few squiggles published in the pages of an otherwise obscure physics journal can possibly constitute a fundamental breakthrough in our collective understanding of the universe is astonishing. Professor Matt Strassler, a specialist in the area, explains the significance of the discovery.


Excerpt (p. 351) from A. Einstein, "Physics and reality", Journal of the Franklin Institute, Volume 221, Issue 3, March 1936, Pages 349-382:

The very fact that the totality of our sense experiences is such that by means of thinking (operations with concepts, and the creation and use of definite functional relations between them, and the coordination of sense experiences to these concepts) it can be put in order, this fact is one which leaves us in awe, but which we shall never understand. One may say "the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility." It is one of the great realizations of Immanuel Kant that the setting up of a real external world would be senseless without this comprehensibility.

In speaking here concerning "comprehensibility," the expression is used in its most modest sense. It implies: the production of some sort of order among sense impressions, this order being produced by the creation of general concepts, relations between these concepts, and by relations between the concepts and sense experience, these relations being determined in any possible manner. It is in this sense that the world of our sense experiences is comprehensible. The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Chinese traders in Africa

The Brenthurst Foundation has recently published a fascinating study of Chinese traders in five African countries.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

NVCA 2012

Video highlights of 2012 sessions, including Arthur Rock's conversation with Mike Markkula.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

A beautiful find

Via Light Blue Touchpaper: The recently declassified contributions of John Nash to the science of cryptology.

Friday, June 01, 2012

From Einstein to Innovation


Einstein: A Life by Denis Brian


The Innovator's Solution by Clayton M. Christensen and Michael E. Raynor

  The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dent the Future


A Brush with Bra

A few weeks ago, quite by chance, I encountered (that's the only way I can describe it) one of my musical heroes: Bra Hugh Masekela. He was much shorter than I expected and seemed to be bristling with energy. He also turned out to be extremely warm and friendly. On their way out, Bra Hugh and his friend walked past the table where I was sitting with a friend. As they did so they said hello (doubtless my earlier attempts at discreet gawking had failed miserably):

Bra Hugh and friend: How are you guys!?

Me: Fine...I love your music!

Bra Hugh: It's not mine, I just found it here!

And off they went galloping into the sunset.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Puritan Gift

On my book wishlist:


Update (24 May 2012): Peter F. Drucker's comments on a very early draft of The Puritan Gift.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Justice with Michael Sandel

"This is a course about justice and we begin with a story. Suppose you're the driver of a trolley car..."
Michael Sandel's introduction to his 12-part series on moral philosophy. 

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012

Poor Economics

In Poor Economics (2011), Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo claim to have discovered a radical new way to fight global poverty. Given the magnitude of the problem and the dismal failure of many previous "solutions", this is a significant claim. But does it have any merit?

Well, Banerjee and Duflo's fundamental idea of using randomised field trials to test various public policy alternatives is far as it goes. Unfortunately, it doesn't go very far. It basically looks at lots of small-scale public policy problems and questions and investigates them rigorously, from the scientific perspective. Which is fine. I can't argue with good science. The trouble is this: Is this small-scale, bottom-up, micro-level approach really THE answer to global poverty? I don't think so. All the existing evidence from all the countries that have ever "developed" indicates that the answer must involve large-scale, top-down, macro-level policy solutions. Micro-level solutions are little more than palliatives.

Banerjee and Duflo neatly (and self-servingly) portray all existing thinking on economic development as falling into two opposing camps, pro-aid and anti-aid, and then claim that there is currently no definitive evidence to prove or disprove either of these camps. A rather convenient characterisation. Naturally, their work on randomised evaluations provides the brave new third way. Evidence-based, of course.

I understand their argument about a lack of evidence. The only problem is it happens to be factually and historically incorrect. Consider the case of Germany, East and West. Or Korea, North and South. Or even Zambia, pre-1991 and post-1991. These cases (and numerous others) provide ample controlled evidence of what really works and doesn't work in economic development.

But perhaps what's most disturbing about Banerjee and Duflo's work are its implicitly (and no doubt unintentional) racist assumptions. How come other countries (from the West, East and increasingly the global South) have been able to develop without the interventions of external do-gooders like Banerjee and Duflo? Why does the world suddenly need a different formula without which the countries of Africa and other underdeveloped parts of the world will be doomed to perpetual poverty?

Poor economics indeed.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Strategy Vs. Tactics from a Venture Capitalist

A classic article by the legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist Arthur Rock on what makes entrepreneurial ventures succeed: Is it strategy or tactics?

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones

"The words to which I should like to call your attention are to be found in..."

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (20 December 1899 – 1 March 1981) frequently began his sermons with these words, as he would draw his audience's attention to a specfic passage of Scripture. Lloyd-Jones was not only one of the greatest preachers of the 20th Century, he was one of the greatest preachers in history. This is what he is best known for today and will be best known for as a historical figure. Less well known is the fact that earlier in his career, Lloyd-Jones was a brilliant physician and scientist. He graduated with distinction in medicine in 1921 at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, earning his MD two years later. He served as chief clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder (the King's physician) and carried out research on bacterial endocarditis. His research is still cited by scientists today.

From 12 April 2012, over 1,600 recorded sermons by Lloyd-Jones will available to download FREE of charge from the Martyn-Lloyd Jones Recordings Trust website. Only a once-off registration is required.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Crossing the River

The compelling first three sentences of Crossing The River, Caryll Phillips's 1993 novel set in the 18th century Trans-Atlantic slave trade:
A desperate foolishness. The crops failed. I sold my children.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Great it is to dream the dream...

Great it is to dream the dream
when you stand in youth by the starry stream.
But a greater thing is to fight life through
and say at the end, "The dream is true!"
John Osteen

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Arthur C. Clarke's Epitaph

Arthur C. Clarke (16 December 1917 - 19 March 2008) is one of my favourite scientists and science fiction authors. He died and is buried in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where the epitaph on his gravestone reads:

Here rests 
Sir Arthur Charles Clarke

He never grew up,
but he never stopped growing

Monday, April 09, 2012

The Gates are mine to open, As the Gates are mine to close

Bill Gates shared his thoughts about Africa with Stanford students on 4 April 2012 followed by a Q&A session. I admire Gates's business achievements and his foundation's humanitarian work, but his ideas about aid policy, however well-intentioned, are seriously misguided. I co-authored a 2009 FrontPage Magazine article explaining why.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Dramatic Tension

On 11 September 1888, Anton Chekhov wrote to his publisher and friend A. S. Survorin about the tension between his medical and literary work:

[...] You advise me not to hunt after two hares, and not to think of medical work. I do not know why one should not hunt two hares even in the literal sense [...] I feel more confident and more satisfied with myself when I reflect that I have two professions and not one. Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress. When I get tired of one I spend the night with the other. Though it's disorderly, it's not so dull, and besides neither of them loses anything from my infidelity. If I did not have my medical work I doubt if I could have given my leisure and my spare thoughts to literature. There is no discipline in me.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The purpose of a team

The purpose of an organization [or a team] is to make the strengths of people productive and their weaknesses irrelevant.

- Peter F. Drucker

Friday, April 06, 2012

A life of significance

Edward Kennedy's deeply moving funeral oration for his brother Robert F. Kennedy:

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Knowing where to tap

Good one (author unknown):

The engine of a giant ship failed. The ship's owners tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure how to fix the engine. Then they brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was a youngster. He carried a large bag of tools with him, and when he arrived, he immediately went to work. He inspected the engine very carefully, from top to bottom.

Two of the ship's owners were there, watching this man, hoping he would know what to do. After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched into life. He carefully put his hammer away. The engine was fixed! A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars.

"What?!" the owners exclaimed. "He hardly did anything!"

So they wrote the old man a note saying, "Please send us an itemized bill."

The man sent a bill that read:

Tapping with a hammer ......................... $ 2.00
Knowing where to tap .....................$ 9,998.00

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Writing and Speaking

Paul Graham's latest essay is on the theme "Writing and Speaking". He extols the virtue of text and disparages the value of speech. He says that the spoken word, or "talks" as he dismissively calls it, is "certainly inferior to the written word as a source of ideas". Perhaps this is to be expected since Graham is an excellent writer (in my opinion) and "not a very good speaker" (in his own opinion). Graham unfairly and inaccurately diminishes the value of the spoken work as a source of ideas. To address just one of Graham's arguments: he constrasts skillfully written texts full of ideas (of his own variety presumably) with extremely well delivered speeches that are very light on substance. This is a classic false dichotomy. There are plenty of examples of insubstantial but well written texts and substantial and well delivered speeches (and not just the "academic talks" Graham mentions in endnote [1]). And indeed examples of various other permutations exist e.g. poorly written insubstantial texts and poorly delivered substantial speeches. It's certainly not a case of: either a well written substantial text, or a well delivered insubstantial speech, with a few exceptions thrown in. In any case, in my view, it's fundamentally impossible to really separate the spoken word and the written word. But Graham's essay served the purpose that all good essays should: it stimulated the thoughts of the reader. Or at least this reader.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Do Hugh take this woman...?

On my hit list (to buy): Bra Hugh's (otherwise known as Hugh Masekela) latest album (Amazon, iTunes, Youtube sample). It's a collection of wedding(-related) songs.