Food for thought: Three personal favourites

Once in a while I come across a book, video or website that stays with me for a long time by providing a model or explanation that really resonates with me. For inspiration at the end of a long summer, here are three personal favourites. Each of these I have returned to and enjoyed years after my initial encounter with them.

Catching up on some pleasure reading during the last days of my vacation. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2022.

Dan Pink on motivation

The first is Dan Pink’s The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

I came upon Dan Pink’s presentation from his 2009 book Drive sometime during my journey from PMP to Agile*. As a knowledge worker my entire career, the insights shared on intrinsic motivation rings true to my own experience. My personal pursuit of mastery and the value of peer recognition have been far more important than pecuniary rewards, titles, and certifications. Money matters, but once you have basic needs fulfilled, other factors matter more. The company culture promoted and built by Netcompany (where I work now) are clearly based on these insights.

I’m privileged and thankful to live in a time and place where I have the luxury to pursue higher goals.

Nick Case on trust

The second is The Evolution of Trust. Nick Case’s interactive guide to game theory resonated with me at a time when Donald Trump had been elected president and long term values such as trust and truth were under attack. The guide lets you explore why trusting and cooperating with strangers can be a good strategy. And why cheating and lying can be a good strategy too. From a game theory point of view.

Web shops and social media have multiplied the number of relations we manage exponentially and have lowered the threshold for starting new relations. Trust is granted and extended quickly through gate keepers. The rules of the game have changed so it should be no surprise that the best strategy has changed. How many repeat encounters do you have in your life? Who do you trust and why?

Relevant also today with Russia’s long list of absurd claims when playing divide-and-conquer against a mostly united west. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do. Then react accordingly. And be forgiving of the mistakes of your fellow copy cats.

Climbing the Oslo Opera House. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2022.

Scott and Amundsen

My third favourite is the 1979 book about the race to the South Pole by Roland Huntford, a captivating re-telling of the events. Contrasting Robert Scott’s approach with that of Roald Amundsen, it highlights how attention to detail contributed to the success of Amundsen:

  • Marking the supply depots so they were easy to find, also by hungry and exhausted expedition members. Scott died tired and hungry 11 miles from his final “One Ton Depot”. Amundsen laid out multiple smaller depots marked with wooden sticks spread out to each side so it would be hard to miss even in bad weather.
  • Amundsen zealously optimised the sealing of the cans with kerosene so that it would not evaporate during the long wait for it to be recovered and burned.
  • Amundsen choose expedition members for their skills with skiing and dog handling over reputation or education. Realising that it was easier to teach an athlete how to measure sun height than teaching an academic how to ski. Or maybe just acknowledging that it was more important to get to the pole first than to produce any "scientific results".
  • Running a daily competition to guess today’s temperature. Thus gently encouraging every member of the expedition to get up and out of the tent before breakfast for a dose of sunlight and reflection to cure bad morning mood. 

The book led me down a rabbit hole of fascination with the golden age of polar exploration, culminating with this year’s visit to the Fram Museum in Oslo.

Amundsen's ship Fram that he got from his fellow Norwegian polar explorer Nansen for the race to the South Pole is on display in the building to the right, a short boat trip from Oslo City Center. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2022.

Also fascinating is that Roald Amundsen didn't settle down and live happily ever after, rich and famous after winning the race. Instead he pursued new expeditions until the one he didn't return from. Robert Scott was the better story teller of the two.

Support Ukraine

There is still a war going on in Ukraine. The war will not be over any time soon. Unfathomable destruction and suffering is happening right now as imperialist Russia attempts to unroll 70+ years of world order. Aggression must be met by force. Our belief in humanity must prevail. Russia must be defeated.

By personal recommendation from the front line, one way to support Ukraine is Come Back Alive, an organization that supports the Armed Forces of Ukraine through financing defence initiatives. Other choices at Stand For Ukraine.

* Agile makes sense when there is a compelling purpose, otherwise it’s just smoke and mirrors.