Week note v2.5

Matthew Cain

Week beginning 23 July

I was on holiday this week and, thanks to the hard work of the team, had to do very little work. So I was able to focus on reading although, having forgot my Kindle, it was harder not to get distracted by regular notifications on my phone. Here’s what I read and learnt.

No turning back: Life, Loss and Hope in Wartime Syria by Rania Abouzeid

A sobering way to start the holiday, not least because the book stops in 2016, long before this story will end. It’s an exceptional piece of long-form journalism which examines the war through the lens of 30-something Syrians. As the protest movement unravelled and the revolution into something much darker (not just a civil war) I was reminded of the finding of Zeynep Tufecki that because the revolution is becoming the trigger for building a movement, rather than the consequence (not least due to the speed of social media) the social and political capital in protest movements is much weaker.

Change by design, by Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the godfather of design thinking. I found this to be a useful primer on design thinking which I’d gladly recommend to anyone. It reminded me how much further we could go to make Hackney a collaborative, inter-disciplinary organisation. Strangely, the book lacks a strong definition of design thinking, despite describing the ‘why’ and ‘how’ exceptionally well. Therefore, I think bold claims that design thinking can solve many of the world’s problems aren’t well-examined.

How to read a book by Adler and Van Doren

I read this, which sat on my wish list for years, having felt guilty about skimming so much of the Brown book. It was more thought-provoking and useful than I feared from the introduction and gave me a more rigorous way of exploring the key ideas in the next book I read. I also felt less guilty about skimming the Brown book.

Cosmopolitanism – Ethics in a world of strangers by Kwame Anthony Appiah

This is a brilliant piece of philosophy because it combines personal tales with a readable account of challenges to radical globalists and isolationists. Appiah advocates a definition of cosmopolitanism as “Embodying two core values: ‘universal concern’ for all humanity above family and nation and a ‘respect for legitimate difference’. These values clash and Appiah provides a range of examples to help us live like cosmopolitans.

1983: the world at the brink by Taylor Downing

Downing believes 1983 to be the year when the world came closest to nuclear war. The study of the year highlights how strategic problems (Reagan, Andropov and the shifting power in the arms race towards the US) combined with tactical ones (the poor mechanistic approach to intelligence embodied in Operation RyAN, the downing of a Korean jet, US jumpiness following the car bombing in Beirut, the USSR misreading of Operation Able Archer) and were exacerbated by undiplomatic language. Fewer parallels with today than I was expecting, and there are far better biographies of a year (1599, 1919, for example) but explained a bit of history I knew poorly.

Mister – the men who taught the world how to beat England at their own game by Rory Smith

This was a last treat and the lightest of the books in the series. It’s an important contribution to the long-running debate over the paucity of effective management and coaching in English football because it shows that the challenge was less about the absence of individuals and more about the climate they worked in. People like Bloomer and Pentland developed famous clubs across Europe because they were denied the opportunity to do it in England.

I’ve got two weeks in Spain in August, although I suspect I’ll have less time available to read, so grateful for ideas and suggestions. Currently my shortlist contains Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci and Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life.

Matthew Cain

Written by

Head of Digital and Data @ Hackney. Obsessed by digital + policy. Ex policy wonk and failing entrepreneur. Easily distracted by sport. Personal views only

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