Really fascinating piece by Simon Kuper in the Financial Times. So many tidbits. Here’s one I was gratified to read:
[Barcelona coach Valverde says,] “This is a continuous sport in which the coach has barely any influence. […] Football belongs to the players. For 45 minutes at a time, non-stop, the player takes his own decisions. I have to say that the great players analyse the game better than I do.”
The first statistics that became widely available, from the 1990s, were the easiest ones to measure: number of passes, tackles, shots etc. These “event data” — measures of what a player does on the ball — are still often shown on TV. However, the average player has the ball for only about two minutes a game. The main question of football may be how he positions himself in the other 88 minutes. Is he controlling crucial spaces and creating space for teammates?
Once again, the link is here. FT.com allows free reading if you give your email.
Good piece by Charles Duhigg, although it’s a different plane of experience to be one of the “also-rans” of your Harvard School of Business class and settle for a Pulitzer-winning career at The New York Times.
But even among my more sanguine classmates, there was a lingering sense of professional disappointment. They talked about missed promotions, disaffected children and billable hours in divorce court. They complained about jobs that were unfulfilling, tedious or just plain bad. One classmate described having to invest $5 million a day — which didn’t sound terrible, until he explained that if he put only $4 million to work on Monday, he had to scramble to place $6 million on Tuesday, and his co-workers were constantly undermining one another in search of the next promotion. It was insanely stressful work, done among people he didn’t particularly like. He earned about $1.2 million a year and hated going to the office.
The WSJ weekend opinion section has an interview with a guy who wants us to quit social media. Of course there are many of these pieces. This one caught my eye because it’s a profile of a self-improvement guru who seems to be writing from an angle I need to explore.
The author is Cal Newport.
Though in his day job Mr. Newport writes technical works like the 2018 paper “Fault-Tolerant Consensus With an Abstract MAC Layer,” he’s been at the self-improvement game for a while. He started out writing books about how students could stand out in high school and college. His career followed his interests as he progressed from graduate student to professor and wondered why some people thrive professionally and others don’t. That led to his career-advice books, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” and “Deep Work.”
The latter takes aim at another technology that corrodes the ability to focus: corporate email. “We sort of gambled on this idea that the key to productivity is going to be faster and more flexible communication,” Mr. Newport says. “At any moment we can have fast and flexible communication with anyone on earth.” Yet productivity has hardly budged. “It’s actually probably going down.”
I just put library holds on the two books cited above. Here’s more from the WSJ:
[Newport] sometimes cites an interview with Jerry Seinfeld. “Let me tell you why my TV series in the ’90s was so good,” the comedian said. “In most TV series, 50% of the time is spent working on the show; 50% of the time is spent dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something. We”—he and Larry David—“spent 99% of our time writing. Me and Larry. The door was closed. Somebody calls. We’re not taking the call. We were gonna make this thing funny. That’s why the show was good.”
To have an excellent career, Mr. Newport argues, you need periods of uninterrupted concentration to produce work of unambiguous value. Many jobs lack a clear measure of value, so that employees treat “busyness as a proxy for productivity” and let email distract them from real work.