Firefighters, mathematicians, and sailors

To Be And To Last #46

This week we explore ships that carry other ships, a 1914 author who thinks calculus is should be easy to learn, and the reason most of us shouldn’t be firefighters.

🚢 This ship sinks to pick up other ships

Along with half of Twitter, I (of course) became a marine salvage expert overnight, following the accidental blockage of the Suez Canal last week.

While going down that maritime rabbit hole, I came across this magnificent clip of the world’s largest semisubmersible heavy-lift ship picking up one of the largest Carnival Cruise vessels.

Keep in mind as you watch: the ship being picked up is just about as long (324m) as 3 World Trade Center is tall (329m). (h/t David Slifka)

🧯 Fighting fires or building the neighborhood?

“Remember: your job as a PM [Product Manager] isn’t to put out fires. It’s to build the product (in this analogy, the neighbourhood). Don’t get addicted to checking items off of a to-do list. Instead, look for the way to prevent the most damage across the whole area.”

- Will Lawrence in PMs Let Fires Burn

As someone who enjoys the excitement of firefighting, Will’s writing on firefighting vs building struck a bit close to home. The more difficult work on building requires deep thinking and pairs slow feedback loops, while the addictive work of firefighting is fast paced and exciting, with immediate feedback loops.

This leaves me wondering how to change my own incentive design to make building more enticing, vs simply relying on pure willpower to atone for poor incentive structuring.

🧮 Complexity is overrated

“The fools who write the textbooks of advanced mathematics … seldom take the trouble to show you how easy the easy calculations are. On the contrary, they seem to desire to impress you with their tremendous cleverness by going about it in the most difficult way.

- Calculus Made Easy by Silvanus Thompson (h/t Helen Czerski)

An excellent reminder that everything can be communicated clearly and simply. Complexity in communication merely demonstrates the writer’s lack of true understanding or lack of commitment in truly sharing that knowledge.

Or as Woodrow Wilson once responded when asked how long he took preparing a speech: “That depends on the length of the speech. If it is a ten-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”


To Be And To Last: Thinker Nate Desmond’s weekly roundup of long reads, contrarian thoughts, and hidden jewels that aren’t getting enough attention.

You likely joined on NateDesmond.com or BuckFiftyMBA.com.

Got thoughts? nate+newsletter@natedesmond.com.