Worth Reading

Strategist Edward Luttwak on Atilla the Hun and the status of military historiographers in academe.

Barry Saunders on journalism in an age of data abundance.

The Kevin Rudd essay (PDF) that the geopolitics journal Foreign Affairs rejected.

How the collapse of Lehman Bros. created a global shockwave and the anniversarial debate.

Why the StatArb hedge fund Renaissance Technologies red-flagged Bernie Madoff in 2003 and the SEC report (PDF).

Rewriting the political punditry of military historian Max Boot and neocon Paul Wolfowitz, who calls for a rethink on realist foreign policy, despite critics.

View some free university lectures on Academic Earth and YouTube Edu.

29th May 2009: What Researchers Can Learn From Brian Eno

For anyone attending Sydney’s Luminous Festival curated by musician/producer Brian Eno, some lessons for researchers:

 

1. Develop a longer-term view for your body of work/research program: Eno’s 40-year career demonstrates how creativity, foresight and role plularity may underpin a body of work or research program. Eno’s career spans several phases: early Roxy Music, a solo career which popularised ambient music and generative art, and as a producer on breakthrough albums by David Bowie, David Byrne, Talking Heads, and U2 (sorry, Coldplay doesn’t count). For most people, helming any one of the following projects would be enough: Talking Heads’ Remain In Light (1980); U2’s The Unforgettable Fire (1984), The Joshua Tree (1987) and Achtung Baby (1991); or David Bowie’s epochal ‘Berlin trilogy’ of Low (1977), Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979). Eno’s hit rate and cultural influence suggests he has a greater embodied awareness. For an overview, see David Sheppard’s recent biography On a Faraway Beach (Orion Books, London, 2008).

 

2. Develop a self-mastery of technique: As the creator of ambient music and generative art, Eno is frequently portrayed as a Renaissance-style creative mastermind with adaptive intent. Two more informed examples are Eric Tamm’s PhD thesis and Elspeth McFadzean’s study (‘What We Can Learn From Creative People? The Story of Brian Eno’, Management Science journal, 38:1, 2000, pp. 51-56). Eno’s diary A Year With Swollen Appendices (Faber & Faber, London, 1996) illustrates the emotional strength; attitude to funding, project and organisational constraints; and granularity of focus that a research program needs in the face of adversity.

 

3. Honour chance and luck: The ‘Law of Accident’ plays an aleatory, randomised role in many of Eno’s most influential creations: the car accident which led to the ambient music experiments for Discreet Music (1975), the Frippertronics tape delay experiments which resulted in Eno and Robert Fripp’s album No Pussyfooting (1972), and the oracular deck Oblique Strategies (1975) created with the late painter Peter Schmidt. This period shows the value of a disposition for action that is informed by conceptual depth; rapid, iterative development for strategy execution; and quasi-experimental methods with collaborators that fail fast and leverage upside risk. Eno continues this line of development with the art installation 77 Million Paintings (2006).

 

4. Build a network of collaborators and mentors: Eno’s collaborators range from David Bowie, David Byrne and U2 to journeymen producers Daniel Lanois and Robert Fripp. This network enabled Eno to transition from Roxy Music to a solo career, and then as an in-demand producer (where word of mouth and past credits are the equivalent of academic publications and grants). As recounted in Simon Reynolds‘ history of New Wave innovation, Rip It Up And Start Again (Faber & Faber, London, 2005), Eno also became a mentor and subcultural curator in the late 1970s to New York’s ‘No Wave’ scene and artists such as Devo and Talking Heads. Many of these artists and producers would become influential in their own right, rather than followers of an Eno aesthetic. Of course, sometimes things can go wrong: the rest of Talking Heads blamed Eno’s production as one of the catalysts for vocalist David Byrne’s decision to leave the band. More recently, Eno has leveraged his ‘public intellectual’ status to promote John Brockman’s Edge salon and The Long Now Foundation.

Worth Reading

The emergent theme: mastery of craft and practitioner awareness as vehicles to engage constructively with inter-group, stochastic processes.

· Nu Testaments: James Parker posits that the high-profile religious conversions of Korn‘s Brian ‘Head’ Welch and Reginald ‘Fieldy’ Arvizu are the flipside of drug abuse and nu-metal touring. Will they appear on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew? Will they join the 25th anniversary tour of Christian heavy metal band Stryper?

· Newsted on Metallica: ‘I never looked back’: Good advice from the ex-Metallica bassist on how to handle life after leaving a super-team: make an independent course, don’t live in the shadows of past successes, and keep the door open for future one-off collaborations. Update: Metallica.com’s 3am message and Blabbermouth’s coverage of Metallica’s Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction.

· Inside a Hedge Fund Meltdown: Hedge fund trader Victor Niederhoffer gives his side of the story about the Refco transaction that led to his ‘blow up’ during the 1997 Asian currency crisis. What a difference a few hours could have made . . .

· Impossible Frontiers: Andrew Lo‘s research sits at the nexus of quantitative finance and practical experience in running a hedge fund, AlphaSimplex. This paper (abstract) co-written with Thomas J. Brennan suggests limitations in the Capital Asset Pricing Model, which determines an appropriate mix of risk and return for a diversified market portfolio, and has implications for funds which rely on short-selling to generate alpha, or investment returns above the market benchmark and vetted for risks.

· Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference 2009: view the keynote panels and read the conference guide.

· Double Standard? CEOs who want a bailout often adopt the rhetoric of Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad‘s book Competing for the Future (1994): government money is necessary for industry survival. James Surowiecki’s ‘paired study’ of the US auto and banking industries shows why the Obama administration’s private equity advisers are pulling the plug: years of firm mismanagement, no profit margins, variable future cash flows, poor liquidity, and international competitiveness.

· Why Your Boss Is Overpaid: Tim Harford’s article was an ‘aha!’ moment on how individual incentives, status hierarchies and infra-group rivalry can sabotage teams. The second ‘aha!’ moment was to grasp how the Australian Government’s recent changes to performance measures in the academic research game are likely informed by tournament theory.

· Henry Rollins’ diary entry 29th March 2008: Some very useful advice on patience and the writing craft: ‘I know a year and a half sounds like a long time and it is but not when it comes to a book. Trying to write has taught me about patience. I remember many years ago, I was living in NYC and working on Get In The Van. I had come back from practice and went back to work. My chair was a bed and my desk was a steamer trunk with a box on top of it. I was transcribing writing out of a notebook and it hit me that in a year, I would still be working on this same book. There is yet another book project that I will start preparing for second draft raking soon if I can get clear on other projects.’

· Xeper as an Operative Secret: Don Webb‘s short essay reveals the Temple of Set‘s initiatory raison d’etre: individual, self-willed becoming. He omits, but has mentioned elsewhere, one powerful psychological framework to achieve this life-orientation (Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi‘s research on creativity, flow and positive psychology) and a very good fictional example of the method and its potential results (Gully Foyle’s transformation in Alfred Bester‘s The Stars, My Destination).

· Event Arbitrage (HBS 9-208-090, 2007): Outlines a two-day M&A simulation and provides details on the market microstructure, merger announcements and transactions. Also explains how to value a ‘negative stub’ alternative investment strategy.

· Managing Learning and Knowledge at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) (9-603-062, 2002): Summarises the lessons learnt from the Apollo moon missions, the Space Shuttle program, and the high-profile failure of several satellite missions in the mid-to-late 1990s. NASA’s KM and organisational challenges included shifting from a heavyweight, waterfall style of project management to the Faster, Better, Cheaper program; the looming retirement of senior staff with organisational memory, and technology solutions which failed because culture, team, and knowledge transfer issues were not addressed. Details a project management office solution which included a budget line item, intranet/portal development, a debriefing process for decision trees and project failures, and a leadership development program. A major outcome is NASA’s Lessons Learned Information System which parallels the US Army’s Center for Lesso
ns Learned
.

1st December 2008: Two Examples of Waking Sleep

The Graeco-Russian philosopher George Gurdjieff argued in the early 20th century that humanity lives much of its life in a form of waking sleep.  This all sounds very theoretical — Gurdjieff was the subject of one of my first four dossiers in 1998 for Disinformation and a 2001 undergraduate essay — but the right circumstances can drive his point home with clarity.

This past weekend provides two examples apart from the Mumbai siege.  In the first, Jdimytai Damour an agency temp was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart sale in Long Island, New York, on Black Friday, 28th November 2008.  Associated Press coverage quotes Kimberly Cribbs that customers acted like “savages”.  The New York Times blamed the media for creating unrealistic expectations about Black Friday sale bargains: the catalyst for a mania.  In the second, Sydney’s Glebe Coroner’s Court has held an inquest into Emma Hansen’s death: Hansen was a pedestrian accidentally killed in 2007 by learner driver Rose Deng, who is still permitted to drive by Australian authorities.  Both incidents illustrate on a micro-scale Gurdjieff’s Law of Accident or Law of Hazard (“when an event happens without the lines of the events we observe”).

For two overviews of Gurdjieff’s philosophy see Richard Smoley‘s introduction to Gnosis Magazine’s special issue here and John Shirley‘s essay The Shadows of Ideas.  I also recommend Shirley’s book Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Ideas (Tarcher, San Francisco, 2004) and his DVD commentary as co-scriptwriter for Alex Proyas’ dark gothic masterpiece The Crow (1994), infamous for another Law of Accident case: Brandon Lee‘s accidental death during a film stunt.