Author: Pedro Porto Alegre

Every Saturday morning I brew myself a cup of freshly ground coffee with 85 degree water, put on some classical music in the living room, open a book and get lost for hours. This small glimpse into my morning routine should tell you most of what you need to know about me for now. The blog serves as an opening into what goes on in my mind... and you're invited in!

Redistribution of Luck: Making Sense of Our Circumstances and The Powers We Hold

I grew up in a little house in the neighbourhood of Pinheiros in Sao Paulo. It was a modest house my parents leased from my grandparents up until I was 11. It was a lovely region, full of bars, shops and concert houses – but despite all of that it was also a dangerous part of town.

I have very vivid memories of being afraid of the outside. My parents had been robbed many times in those streets and once they even had the house broken into by two armed thieves while they were home. Brazil is a country of two nations – a Modern Brazil that resembles the life of North Americans and Europeans; and the Real Brazil, one where people don’t have enough to eat and must live by the decisions of Modern Brazil (which most often don’t reflect the realities of 90% of the population).

Growing up I always wondered what did I do to deserve being born in Modern Brazil. Did my ancestors claw out poverty and discrimination by sheer hard work and power of will, or were we simply lucky enough to have been born into a household descendant of Europeans in the west end of town?

I’ll never have the answers to these “what if” questions, but in seeking to understand history, moral philosophy and economics I was able to fill in some gaps.

Serendipity

After turning 16, I embarked in an exchange program to Canada. The whole idea was to sharpen my English and be exposed to different cultures and ways of life. This entire experience was only possible due to the kindness of the host mom I so luckily happened to be paired with. She treated me like a son and assured my parents that, even though I was 10,000 kilometers away from home, they did not have anything to worry about.

As the years went by, I was able to stay in Canada, gain a scholarship to play basketball in college, graduate university, and start a career that enabled me to live in different parts of the country. Things were working out better than I could have ever wished for. And so my childhood question about serendipity burned even stronger.

The more I travelled, read and talked to people from different walks of life, the more I realized that my life was rather unusual. Sure – I worked hard to achieve my goals and stuck to my values of living an honest life, but none of that would have been possible without a basic foundation that was totally outside of my control that most people around the world can only dream of. Not once have I ever had to worry about not having enough to eat, a doctor to take care of my health when sick, or access to education (among many others).

These are things that the developed world often takes for granted. The very fact that I can read and write this sentence in English automatically gives me access to more books, more papers, and more services than 6 billion people around the world could only dream of. And all it takes is a few Google searches to quickly realize how my income puts me in a far more fortunate position than the vast majority of the globe.

So, if hard work and natural talents only pay off in the face of opportunity, and opportunity is only available to a select group of people in the world by sheer luck of the straw, how much of my personal success can I confidently attribute to my own doing versus where and when I was put into this world?

How would have my life played out had I been born in Real Brazil?

Effective Altruism

For a long time I contemplated how I could give back the fruits of my labor and serendipity in the most impactful way. And so this past year I was exposed to Peter Singer’s philosophy of Effective Altruism that completely changed my perspective on the concept of charity.

In Essays in Philosophy Volume 18, Issue 1 (2017) Effective Altruism: IntroductionWilliam MacAskill defines Effective Altruism as:

“…the project of using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis. […] Its aims are welfarist, impartial, and maximizing: effective altruists aim to maximize the wellbeing of all, where (on some interpretation) everyone counts for one, and no-one for more than one. “

ESSAYS PHILOS (2017)18:1 | DOI: 10.7710/1526-0569.1580 

And so a community of Effective Altruists was born around this idea and platforms were set up to facilitate the engagement of regular folk like myself to contribute in any way they can. Websites such as effectivealtruism.org and givewell.org make giving a lot easier by having a team of experts evaluate the most effective charities around the world and allocate funding based on where your dollar will save the most lives. The concept of Effective Altruism “Mutual Funds” were invented and automated deposits made it that much easier for anyone to get involved.

So, what if you could live a life in which you saved someone from a burning building every year on top of your day job? Effective Altruists have figured out how to do just that.

The Against Malaria Foundation estimates that a mere $3,000 will save someone from dying of Malaria. A bed-net costs as little as $5, and that will effectively protect a child from dying of a disease responsible for killing over 400,000 people every year.

But you see, giving money for Malaria bed-nets isn’t as rewarding a partaking in toy drives, food banks and personal volunteer hours in your local community. The “immediate feedback” of doing good (familiar faces smiling and thanking the donors) is a lot harder to recreate when solving the biggest causes of suffering in the world – specially when they’re happening thousands of miles away from your doorstep.

And to make matters even harder, publicly talking about your altruistic efforts to others has become taboo – your true intentions behind the good deed will come into question. But as Sam Harris, in his conversation with William MacAskill, put it – speaking about your efforts to give back can inspire others to do the same. 

2020 has opened our eyes to many things; one of them being how fragile the human existence truly is and how together we can change the course of history for the better. For so many years we’ve grown protective of our achievements and ways of living. All of that is badly estimated. Much of who we are, what we do and how we live is largely circumstantial. The fortunate ones have the duty to help elevate the tide for all boats. 

And with that I am challenging you, the reader, to embrace your serendipity and join me in this endeavour. 

Begin your journey by committing 1% of your income to making the world a better place for all here: 

effectivealtruism.org or givewell.org

PPA

My Book Picks from 2020

When the sun rose on January 1st, I was thrilled to take on 2020. Sarah and I were in a beautiful beach in Brazil cheering champagne alongside my family just before hopping in a plane back to Canada to start a new chapter in our lives.

We were officially moving to Toronto.

It was an exciting first 3 months, exploring a new city and building new relationships in what was shaping up to be an epic year… until March 11th came. That’s when I left the office for the last time unsure of what lied ahead, and the 2020 that we came to know officially began.

Oftentimes the books I’m reading follow my present state of mind. I try to line up about 20 books that I intend to read each year ahead of time, but then unexpected things happen that scratch my curiosity about different topics I had never thought about. Below is a snapshot of where my head was at throughout 2020:

And so, I’d like to share with you my Top 5 books from above that helped shape my thinking going into 2021.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

This was an extraordinary piece of writing by one of the biography industry’s very best – Walter Isaacson. I did not have this book on my reading list before the end of the year, but while I was in Brazil in 2019 I visited a Leonardo da Vinci exposition (which I talked about on this post) that completely blew my mind.

Aside from having been one of history’s most brilliant painters, Leonardo embodied the definition of a true renaissance man. He invented military weapons, water systems and flying machines, he was a sculptor, he was an exceptional writer, he studied the human body and drew the most detailed anatomy pictures of his time, and the list goes on.

This book was an inspiration to me as I’ve always identified myself as a “generalist”. After seeing how the mind of one of history’s greatest generalists functioned I was finally ready to proudly wear my polymath hat.

Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities by Vaclav Smil

This was recommended by Bill Gates in his 2019 yearly book roundup, but it does come with a word of caution: it’s an extremely technical book, heavy in academic language and mathematical detail.

But Vaclav, known for his deep knowledge in policy and energy systems in his work at the University of Winnipeg, does such an incredible job in explaining how things grow and the patterns in which they do that somehow this 600 page unit, which contains an additional 100 pages purely devoted to sources, becomes a page-turner.

If you’re curious to understand how the laws of thermodynamics explain the economic activity we see today and how to predict the future of growth trajectories (of any type: cells, crops, cities, societies, and more), then this book is for you. I can say that this was one of the most intellectually challenging books I’ve ever read, and because of that it was also the most rewarding one to dive into.

The Canadian Regime: An Introduction to Parliamentary Government in Canada (6th Edition) by Patrick Malcolmson & Richard Myers

I began reading this book in the week leading up to Canada Day. There was a lot of talk about “cancelling” Canada Day due to its complicated history with Native Americans and policies passed over the years, and I realized how little I knew about how my government worked.

Patrick and Richard do a fantastic job in explaining the foundational theory of our parliamentary democracy and how it differs from other systems (such as federal republics, autocracies, communist states, etc.), and they also figured out how to explain our political conventions in a way that will finally make it “click”.

This book is updated after each election to reflect the latest political realities in the government, and is a must read for anyone looking to be a more active member of Canadian society or for someone just trying to navigate our presently charged political reality.

Principles by Ray Dalio

In 2019 I worked as an analyst and took on projects in which I manipulated big data to make more educated forecasts/decisions in business. I quickly learned that when seeking to propose change that impacts large swaths of people, aligning on a set of principles will make it a lot easier to roll out future plans you may have in mind. As long as the ideas ladder up to the core principles of the project, it will oftentimes be safe to try.

So, what better person to talk about drafting principles than hedge fund manager, Ray Dalio. He talks through every single one of this personal principles in detail and how they helped him in business and in life.

Many of the culture building tactics Dalio used at Bridgewater Associates have been implemented across every industry in the globe due to their success in the world’s largest hedge fund firm. On top of his many business successes, Ray also provides a great framework of thinking for anyone navigating complexity at work or at home.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff

I began reading this book after a friend of mine recommended me to watch “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix. It was an eye opening docudrama that shone light into a number of philosophical and pragmatic issues with social media that sadly most people aren’t even aware of. After questioning my own relationship with Facebook and Google, this was the perfect book to help me determine where I stood in this so called dilemma.

Understanding privacy in the 21st century has become a far more complex exercise due to how our minds have been wired to interpret it over the previous century. The iPhone was only launched 13 years ago (2007) and so most people still aren’t well versed in the bits & pixels emanating from their personal pocket computers.

The idea that someone wouldn’t care about their privacy because “they don’t have anything to hide” no longer holds up – with the emergence of social media interweaving itself in every aspect of our lives we have become vulnerable to manipulation; so much so that we have recently seen a wave of populist movements threaten democracies across the world.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to confidently take control of their data, which effectively has become our social currency in the 21st century world.

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I hope I was able to be of help in picking a couple books for your 2021 reading list. Please drop me a line with what you’re planning to read in the new year in the comment section!

To see what I’m reading year-round, follow me on Goodreads here.

PPA

You can find my 2019 Book Picks here.

My Thoughts on the State of the World Today

Important note: all opinions below are my own, and do not reflect the ultimate truth. As more evidence emerges, these opinions will continue to be re-iterated in my never-ending search of getting closer to that ultimate truth.

As of the day of this writing, the world finds itself in a critical tipping point in a number of fronts. A global disease threatens the lives of millions, exposes the fragility of the systems created in the 20th century that have shaped our way of life, and forces us to change at breakneck speed in order to adapt to a future that is still uncertain in just about every angle you look at it.

Series of events that led us here

Information flows are the oxygen that fuel our modern knowledge economy, one that relies in radical transparency and thoughtful disagreement in order to effectively evolve. However, fast-forwarding to the American presidential elections that happened in 2016, the reliability of journalism started to erode as social media ad and content targeting took place on platforms such as Facebook, where campaign managers actively explored voters’ online data tracing to target and convert them with the help of consultancy services from UK-based firm Cambridge Analytica. The scandal reached its boiling point when the CEO and Founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg, had to testify before the Congress of the United States on April 11th of 2018, exposing how unprepared, confused and uneducated the regulators in government were as it related to the new realities of the world.

This loose summary of recent political events led to where we currently find ourselves today: a polarized political environment due to the rise of populist political agendas across the world that undermines the trustworthiness of journalism, science and information leading to alienated citizens and ineffective mechanisms of collaboration between the public and private sectors, while threatening the state of modern democracy as we know it.

The world today is more interdependent than ever before due to globalist policies, increased travel, and interconnected supply chains. These changes have successfully grown the pie instead exclusive individual pieces, proving that the global economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Since the year 2000, the number of people living in poverty has been reduced in half as the role of developing countries in the global economy raised from 33% to 48% as of 2019. However, with the rise of populist regimes across the world (e.g., USA in 2016) we began to see the introduction of additional tariffs on international trade, closing of borders, and international conflict increase as a form of false reinforcement to its scared citizens that their country is taking action to care for them.

Finally, as the fears of global warming begin to become more real, the future of the energy sector is forced into a generational transformation towards sustainable forms of renewable energy that countries around the world find themselves at different stages of the journey. With the volatility of oil prices around the world increasing, profitability of extracting, moving and selling this commodity becomes uncertain, while countries take measures to increase the incentives on the research and development of new technologies in the renewable arm of the sector while introducing policies (e.g., carbon tax) to reduce the usage of fossil fuels and encourage the transition towards greener sources.

All of these recent changes in the political, economic and social spheres have been pushed to its breaking point when the SARS-CoV-2 was officially declared a global pandemic on March 11th of 2020, leading to a series of domino-effect consequences felt across the world. As of April 11th, most countries have officially entered “Economic Depression-status” where unemployment rates and stock market losses reach double digit highs.

What role do governments need to play

As the virus began the spread, we saw countries react differently: some immediately closed their borders, others cancelled all travel, others placed their citizens under mandatory lock down, and more. At the time, “what” to do was still not well understood and in hindsight we now know that the sooner the country took lock-down measures the lesser the impact on their health systems and economies.

However, due to the novelty of the virus and how it behaved, paired with the specificity of the demographics of each country, the data on fatality and contagiousness was not very reliable. It ranged from 0.2% (South Korea) to 10% (Italy) mortality rate, as the speed at which governments reacted and the age of the population played major factors on determining the number. Since humans aren’t very good at understanding exponential curves, a lot of countries assumed everything was OK when they only had a few hundred cases growing very slowly, even comparing this virus to a “normal flu” or H1N1.

These were irresponsible comparisons (since these people weren’t looking a fatality rate % nor length of time, only at absolute numbers of cases and deaths) that led many to believe this wasn’t a big deal and in turn exacerbated the curvature of the trend.

So, once the markets started to crash, people’s retirement savings began to disappear into thin air, companies’ cash flow statements began to dry up and millions were getting laid off, people were looking to their governments for help – rightfully so. As the multi-billion (and in some cases, multi-trillion) dollar aid packages started to be announced it was clear that the new socio-economic realities of the 21st century demanded governments to change. In a world where we mandate people to self-isolate to stop the spread of a virus, many simply cannot do that as they depend on their next pay-check to cover rent and to put food on the table. Conversations about a UBI (Universal Basic Income) started to sound more realistic in the face of such new realities.

Many people criticized their leaders for sending money abroad to support developing countries in the fight against COVID, without fully understanding why or the relative size of these packages. In Canada, Ottawa pledged $150 million dollars to the WHO (World Health Organization) as a foreign aid package to help combat the virus in refugee camps in Greece and other developing nations. To put this money into perspective, this only amounts to 0.5% of the domestic aid package offered to Canadians (which amounts to $27 billion CAD as of the date of this writing). And from a social responsibility perspective, if we don’t stop the spread in the developing world Canadians will never see this virus go away as it will continue to spread globally even after First World nations successfully beat it domestically. So, pledges such as these are absolutely necessary in the fight against a global pandemic.

In order for lock-downs to work and for countries to successfully beat this virus, it won’t be a domestic fight. It will require global cooperation among countries to mobilize and free up resources to the locations most in need. The virus does not discriminate, so unless we are willing to help each other we will see far more deaths than necessary.

What does this mean to the economy as we know it

Three days before COVID-19 was deemed a global pandemic, Saudi Arabia started an oil price war with Russia leading to a 65% quarterly fall in oil prices in the span of a few days. This was a double gut punch for those regions where economic activity is strongly tied to the price of oil. In turn, further polarization about the industry took place and massive lay offs happened overnight.

Many regions in the world have non-diversified oil economies, which leads to cyclical patterns of economic activity. As an example, in Canada the province of Alberta possesses roughly 10% of the world’s oil reserves. This has led the provincial governments to double down on the industry preventing its local economy from diversifying itself. This type of policy has exposed its people to three major weaknesses that further perpetuates economic fragility:

  1. A boom-and-bust economy that has major impacts in people’s abilities to retain a job over longer periods of time;
  2. Retaining talent that does not want to work in the oil industry, forcing many to leave the province, and;
  3. Entrepreneurs having little to no incentive in opening up non-oil businesses (tech, for example) in Alberta as tax break incentives are removed and applied to pipeline building projects.

When you look at Alberta’s energy grid, 91% of it comes from fossil fuels (43% coming from coal), whereas provinces such as Ontario and Quebec heavily over index on renewable sources. This is not to say that relying on fossil fuels isn’t economically the right thing to do for Alberta (although, questionable when speaking about a sustainable future), but based on the federal government’s tax break incentives for renewable energy usage there are clear advantages for business owners to source their electricity from renewable sources.

However, believing that we can successfully run a sustainable circular economy one day may also be misleading. As Vaclav Smil (scientist and policy analyst from the University of Manitoba) puts it in his book Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities:

“Modern economies are based on massive linear flows of energy, fertilizers, other agrochemicals, and water required to produce food, and on even more massive energy and materials flows to sustain industrial activities, transportation, and services. Circularization of the two key flows is impossible (reusing spent energy would require nothing less than abolishing entropy; reusing water used in cropping would require the capture of all evapotranspiration and field runoff), and (with the exception of a few metals in some countries) high-intensity (>80% of total flows), mass-scale recycling of materials (above all construction waste, plastics, and electronic waste) remains elusive.”

But this is not to say that innovation couldn’t solve for any of that. It just remains highly unlikely that we will ever get there in any reasonable amount of time unless a massive spur of innovation fueled by huge amounts of capital investment begin flowing into creating solutions for such issues – which the world is no where near the place it needs to be in order for that to happen.

Now, from a pandemic-induced economic breakdown perspective, the short term pain of COVID-19 inevitably will be felt across every country and every level of the economic systems. In order to prevent complete chaos, governments have had to issue massive aid packages so people who have been laid off can continue to pay rent and put food on the table. This money isn’t lost money, as it’s being re-injected into the economy by these very people when they complete a transaction. However, these aid packages mean governments are having to print more money and are now offering close to zero percent interest loans to businesses so they can keep people on the pay roll. This cycle is inflationary in nature and we should expect currency devaluation and more volatility in global trade as a result.

Most recently, hedge fund manager Ray Dalio gave a interview on the TED Connects program about the future of the global economy. He sees what’s happening in the economy today and draws direct comparisons with the 1929-33 Great Depression, when the US saw unemployment rates reach 25% and GDP decline by 30%. Dalio, who predicted and successfully dodged the 2008 market crash by investing in bonds without credit risk, currencies and gold, thinks the impact of COVID “freezing” the economy will force us to rethink the way capitalism currently operates as we understand the need of government intervention and social safety nets in a 21st century new world order.

What will the “new normal” be

Reinvention of systems isn’t something new. Looking back in history this has happened many times. When there is collapse of the world order people come out of it more united and hopeful of a new future, and a new world order that requires reinvention and evolution from the old one emerges. The latest example of this being after World War II.

The idea that the profit system can accomplish everything has not proven to be right, because resource allocation goes to those who have the resources. For example, in our current system those who belong in the top 40% of household wealth spend 5x as much money in their kids’ education than those in the bottom 60%. This system is self perpetuating, reinforcing the funneling of capital and opportunity to those who already possess it in the vast majority of time.

But don’t get me wrong, I believe capitalism works but there comes a time when it needs reform. We should not be able to only grow the size of the pie, but we should also be able to divide it well. Otherwise the people lose faith in the system as the vast majority of them get left out of the benefits from participating in it.

The amount of wealth in the world remains roughly the same over time. The only way to increase value is through innovation and learning – both of which increase productivity (ability to create more with less). Investment in health and education are two of the best decisions any country can make in order to achieve that (studies show a positive correlation between additional years of education leading to longer lifespans). Sadly, we still see many countries (such as the United States) where basic health care isn’t available and education still remains an elusive idea due to the massive amount of money required to get one.

Massive transformation will also need extend to the way businesses’ organizational charts, incentives and key performance indicators are structured. What has become known as “Community Capitalism”, is an emerging business model that caters to the needs of a 21st century society. As the relations between consumers and enterprises change due to advancements in IoT (Internet of Things), the feedback loop has been shortened and so has consumer loyalty. In the past, customers were “one-time” buyers, but with the birth of the sharing economy (think Uber, AirBnb, Spotify, etc.), these same customers will need to become life-long users. And in order to effectively make that happen, organizations will need to restructure the way they collaborate with other stakeholders – which in this case could be other internal teams with conflicting priorities or even external companies that play in the same arena (think of a fridge manufacturer implementing IoT capabilities now having to collaborate with a data cloud company, the success of both depends on each other’s success). And the disruption doesn’t stop there: companies’ value offerings will need to be widened to the value they bring to the wider community – interesting ways some have been able to achieve that is by creating internal banks to provide favorable mortgages to staff.

So, a post-COVID world will give birth to a new consumer: one that’s scared, underemployed, with less assets and more socially conscious. Both service/product providers and employers will need to think of news ways to fulfill these concerns. A more fertile ground for social-entrepreneurship will also emerge.

Why am I optimistic about where we go from here

On the paragraphs above I expressed my concerns and thoughts on a number of changing fronts that are happening in society today. Although the COVID-19 pandemic sparked my desire to write this, the transformations I described are far broader than the health and economic crisis sparked from the virus itself, and in many cases were happening long before the outbreak.

Despite humanity finding itself in a key turning point for the future of its existence, I am an optimist at heart and believe we will get more things right than wrong. As seen in the past, when humans resist change for too long, a series of events eventually change humans against their will. This pandemic seems to be an example of the latter.

Recently, we’ve seen many organizations realize that the work they were asking their employees to do from the office was actually doable from any other location in the world. We’ve been forced to reflect about the need to measure input (hours worked) as a function of output (productivity). And in many cases we’ve learned that most can produce more in less time, whereas some need more time to produce less. This is a fundamental paradigm shift to the one that was introduced after the industrial revolution, where factory workers’ time spent on the manufacturing floor was directly correlated to their value added. In a knowledge economy of the 21st century, this no longer holds true and we are being pushed into questioning the fundamental assumptions that we’ve held our entire lives regarding the relationship between life and work.

We’ve also seen an outpour of gratitude toward frontline workers (nurses, grocery shelf stockers, truck drivers, and many more), which make up the larger part of the essential work needed to keep our societies running. This came as a breath of fresh air, as historically these workers have been undervalued and even marginalized by the holders of power in society.

However, one thing hasn’t changed: the human need to connect with one another. This fundamental need for human love has been displayed in heroic acts of kindness by people helping each other in times of distress. Whether by video chatting with someone going through mental health issues, or by donating your money and time to those in need, or by businesses offering free meals to those in the frontlines keeping the world turning, the very nature of being human has been put on center stage in every corner of Earth in the midst of this pandemic.

With that, I have faith that as a collective we will persevere, as we have many times in the past in the face of insurmountable challenges. By letting our very nature guide us through all of these changes, humans will design a future worth looking forward to, one where everyone has a role to play and a dream to aspire to.

 

PPA

 

Sources:

My Top 5 Books From 2019

Reading has always brought me tremendous joy. It’s an activity in which I get to jump in and out of reality & imagination, sharpening my tools while also trying them out in my day to day life.

In 2018 I set out to read 100 books by 2023. Here’s a list of the top 5 books I read in 2019 that had an enormous impact on my way of thinking.

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1.      Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality by Anthony de Mello

Anthony de Mello was an Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist who gave many lectures about spirituality over the course of his life. This book is a compilation of the key lessons he gave around the topic of awareness and in these pages lie many “aha-moments”. This is a book to be read once a year to reset your mind.

We are often trapped in ways of thinking without knowing and this book will open your eyes to that. De Mello doesn’t preach any religion in it, rather he uses reason and philosophy to help us understand important mental traps that hold us back in life.

“When you said, ‘I was a success’, you were in error; you were plunged into darkness. You identified yourself with success. The same thing when you said, ‘I am a failure, a lawyer, a businessman’. You know what’s going to happen to you if you identify yourself with these things. You’re going to cling to them, you’re going to be worried that they may fall apart, and that’s where your suffering comes from.”

2.      The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

“If we mortals are to uphold our end of the human-computer symbiosis, if we are to retain a role as the creative partners of our machines, we must continue to nurture the wellsprings of our imagination and originality and humanity.”

Similarly to his book “Steve Jobs”, Walter Isaacson left me inspired and speechless about the dynamics of human collaboration and limitless thinking that has led us to our present day.

It’s no easy feat to build a personal computer, or a software, or a encyclopedia 85-times the size of Britannica, or much less a search engine that emulates human-ranking thinking. But these were all contributions from many of the great companies we know today – Apple, Microsoft, Wikipedia and Google.

Despite the endless patent wars we see in the news, purists believe that none of these ideas “belong” to anyone. These were all expansions on a single idea originated 150 years ago by Ada Lovelace. The idea that humans and machines one day would not be put against each other, but rather collaborate to achieve unimagined feats.

3.      Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse

“Power is concerned with what has already happened; strength with what has yet to happen. Power is finite in amount. Strength cannot be measured, because it is an opening and not a closing act. Power refers to the freedom persons have within limits, strength to the freedom persons have with limits”

James P. Carse is a professor of history and literature of religion at New York University. In this book Carse eloquently explains all the games hidden in our every day lives.

There are two types of games: finite and infinite games. “Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.” From this simple deduction, Carse dissects all the elements that make each game unique and relevant within our lives.

When I first read this book I had 78 highlighted passages… there are way too many golden nuggets hidden in these pages, and very much like Awareness, this is a book that must be read at least once a year.

4.      Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction with this book. It is written in the form of a letter to his son about the symbolism and struggles of being an African American in the United States.

This is an absolute masterpiece that will open your eyes to how racism has shaped the history of America and continues to be a problem today. What I thought I understood was a tremendous understatement to what Coates so brilliantly writes to his son.

“We should seek not a world where the black and white race live in harmony, but a world in which the terms black and white have no real political meaning.”

This is required reading for anyone looking to understand how racism truly manifests itself around us. It is the first step towards true empathy in a world so divided by race, religion and place of birth.

5.      Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

This is one of the most complete books about the evolution of human societies that I’ve ever read. It has also won a Pulitzer Prize, Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Rhone-Poulenc Prize, and the Commonwealth club of California’s Gold Medal.

Diamond does an incredible job explaining how and why certain societies advanced ahead of others by digging deep into their abilities to raise large mammals, grow certain foods, leverage their climate and landmass to migrate and trade with other groups as well as their exposure to animal diseases that helped them develop antibodies against certain viruses and bacteria.

This all-encompassing chronicle shines light into how the geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern societies we see today and answers a lot of questions that you may have never thought of.

Bonus: Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley & David Kelley

The brothers Tom Kelley (partner at IDEO) and David Kelley (founder of IDEO and of the Stanford d.school) are two of the most influential masterminds in the design thinking world. In this book they reflect on the power of creativity and how all of us can unleash our creative powers to solve problems around us with the user at the epicenter of it.

Design thinking has become a powerful way of thinking to finding innovative solutions to the hard problems of today and of the future. It all revolves around 2 key elements: empathy and prototyping.

This is a powerful book that will help even the most seasoned creative thinkers to cause long lasting impact on the solutions to the problems they are working on today and on the innovations of tomorrow.

What do you have in your reading list for 2020?

PPA

My Farewell Letter to Alberta

Eleven years ago I boarded a plane headed to Canada for what should have been a short exchange program… little did I know that this “short trip” would lead me to discover a new life that I had for so long dreamed about.

As a kid I used to watch NBA games on Friday nights, and we would always get Denver Nuggets games. I loved watching the pre-game show as it would show the players landing in the Rockies in the middle of a snowstorm all bundled up. For a kid who had never experienced anything colder than 5C I used to fantasize about what life was like in North America. That eventually became a reality, but a little more north of the Colorado Rockies…

Red Deer, Alberta was my new home. I remember flying over farm fields that would disappear into the horizon. I had never seen anything like it growing up in Sao Paulo. I would eventually go on to open some doors through basketball, going to college and graduating from a Canadian university. There were times I had to pinch myself as it all felt like a dream.

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Despite being away from family and friends for so long, life was flying by. I built new friendships and a new family who made sure I always felt loved and that I belonged here. I never spent a Christmas or a Thanksgiving alone thanks to those people.

The life of an immigrant is different, and that was something I accepted from the beginning. Going a couple of years without seeing family and filling out endless visa forms every year were my new reality. I had grandparents and great-grandparents who were immigrants themselves and I knew the stories about their struggles to build a new life in Brazil, where hope for a better future drove them to work hard every day. It was my turn now and I wasn’t going to forget the shoulders I was standing on.

I’ve worked construction jobs, sold car cleaning supplies at gas stations, helped with start ups, drove delivery trucks, stocked grocery store shelves, and more. Those were all teaching me about life and about the people of Alberta from all walks of life: different religions, different home countries, different social classes, and different political views. Those are life lessons I’ll carry with me forever.

Today I say goodbye to beautiful Alberta… I grew up in the big city but learned about myself in the Canadian prairies. I’ve had the opportunity to visit every corner of this province and picked up so many amazing stories along the way. This place will forever feel like home to me.

Last Photo Apartment

Our last picture in our Calgary home!

As Sarah and I pack our bags today and make our way out East, we will never forget our roots, but we will also not look back. You can’t swim against the currents of life and this is where this river is leading us next. Life has a funny way of teaching you lessons and putting you through experiences that you need to go through… such as that short trip to Canada eleven years ago.

Toronto, we are coming with open arms and open minds… we will adopt your way of life, embrace your history and give back along the way. You’re our new home now.

The show must go on…

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Human Incompetency In A Flat Screen World

“Most men would rather die than think. Many do.” – Bertrand Russell

How much truth does the quote above carries today? With tech companies coming out with driverless cars, digital refrigerators that order food and clean themselves, smart TVs that listen to voice commands, and more, it is hard not to wonder what will computers not do for us in the future.

This is what Google's driverless car looks like. Would you hop in for a ride?

This is what Google’s driverless car looks like. Would you hop in for a ride?

Back in the day people had to work harder to get things done. There didn’t use to be phones with alarms to remind us of our appointments, they had to write it down with a pen or just plainly remember it. Free time didn’t revolve around Facebook, but rather on playing cards or reading a book (yes, a physical one). And chatting with friends actually required you to use your vocal cords (and not your fingertips).

Where has all of those primal capabilities gone? Will in 100 years from now our society still be able to look at each others’ faces while speaking to one another? Will we know how to drive on highways at a constant speed without using cruise control? Or will we still be able to play sports with our bodies rather than with our game consoles?

How much has the exponential growth of technology advancements negatively affected us?

How a Business Should Use Tech

In the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins, he talks about the role of technology in companies’ success. He points out that technology speeds up the processes that lead advancement rather than substitutes them. You can have all the gadgets to measure risk, predict trends, produce more, and cut costs but if you don’t have the right people, none of that matters. A business will not succeed, no matter how much the Gods of computer science want, if it doesn’t have self-motivated people willing to work hard towards a common goal.

Jim Collins makes the analogy of a flywheel, which takes a long time before it completes a full circle. Pushing a flywheel at first takes a lot of effort, and it might just move an inch or two in the beginning. But as you keep pushing the wheel, it soon starts gaining momentum and eventually it no longer needs to be constantly pushed to keep spinning.

Edwin Catmull, the president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, was the pioneer of computer animated feature films. In 1995, his dream of producing the first computer-animated movie was reached when Pixar launched Toy Story, but what most people don’t know is how that turned into a reality.

Pixar Animation is the perfect example of how the usage of technology has not overridden the importance of its people.

Pixar Animation is the perfect example of how the usage of technology has not overridden the importance of its people.

Long before Catmull incorporated Pixar Animation with the help of Alvy Smith and Steve Jobs, he had been dreaming about computerized movies. He did not know when or how he would get there, since at the time when he was going to school the field of computer science was brand new. In other words, he knew where he wanted to go, but did not have the right people to help him get there.

He kept learning and applying himself on the field, until he joined Lucasfilm where he had the resources to experiment and eventually create the Pixar Image Computer. When Lucasfilm had to size down due to George Lucas’ divorce, Ed and Alvy were left alone looking for investors to keep Pixar “alive”. That is when Steve Jobs came along and was able to pump cash and business knowledge into the veins of what became to be known as Pixar Animation.

Ed Catmull, in his book Creativity, Inc., emphasizes the management tactics he uses to keep Pixar’s creative environment vibrant. In the early days it would take them many years to complete one film. But as the technology evolved over the years, they were able to shorten that time period and work on multiple projects at the same time. And that is how the company grew.

In other words, without the right people clocking in the hours and pushing that flywheel every single day, advanced computer systems would not have been able to produce Toy Story, Bug’s Life, or Up on their own. What technology did, instead, was offer a way to do make operations run more smoothly and films produced with greater detail. The core of Pixar still revolves around creative people thinking of great stories, not of advanced computer systems producing good looking films.

People vs Smartphones

A smartphone is worthless without its applications.

Therefore, people aren’t addicted to their phones, they are addicted to the apps in it.

Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, etc… are responsive technologies. In other words, they respond to our stimulus instantly, and since patience is not one of humans’ greatest assets, it works quite well with us.

Social media platforms have enabled us to stay connected at all times, but it has also disabled us from staying connected in the physical world.

Social media platforms have enabled us to stay connected at all times, but it has also disabled us from staying connected in the physical world.

On top of that, these social media platforms make us interact with other humans without having to expose ourselves. Humans love the feeling of belonging, and as a matter of fact we feel safer when we are part of a group. Now, add instant response to social interaction and you have a very addictive tool readily available almost unlimitedly (and as you might also know, humans love tools as well…).

So, that photo that you posted on Instagram that is racking up likes is actually sending a rush of instant gratification to your brain every time it shows on your locked screen. It’s like a drug, and we are all becoming dependent users of it.

How Technology Cancels Its Purpose

In the age of flat screens we are all guilty of being addicts.

But don’t get me wrong, technology has brought many positives into our lives. Being able to fly across the globe in less than 20 hours was unthinkable 100 years ago. Talking to friends in other continents has become nearly free (thanks to Skype, Viber, and Whatsapp). Not to mention finding unique places to eat in our gigantic cities, due to our beloved GPSs.

But when we are setting up phone alarms to wake us early to go to work and we’re still arriving late because the first thing we do in the morning is check Facebook… the whole purpose of technological practicality goes to waste.

An 8 hour work day is now taken over by 3 hours of afternoon Internet surfing. Exercising three times a week has become nearly impossible now that we need to catch up on our favorite shows on Netflix. Reading a book? Haa we’re too busy reading what other people are up to on Twitter.

The bottom line is, as humans beings the only reason why we are here today is because we have been able to develop critical skills that have enabled us to progress – such as reading, speaking, running, thinking, driving, building, etc. Technology should never replace those skills. Rather, it should enhance them, accelerating the momentum as we push that flywheel.

 

PA

Let’s Put Alberta’s 2015 Election In The Books

The reason why this post is under the “Business” tab is because: 1) I had nowhere else to put it, and 2) because politics is a form of business on its own.

For my foreign readers, I apologize about this post, but maybe you will get something out of this. For those who don’t know, Alberta is the economic engine of the oil-driven Canadian economy. The province has the third largest reserves of crude oil in the world (behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela) and is expected to produce nearly 3.8 million barrels of oil per day by 2022. If you haven’t heard much about the “Alberta’s oil sands” yet, then click here.

The province of Alberta's official flag.

The province of Alberta’s official flag.

However, that’s not all. Alberta has the fourth largest population in Canada (just over 4.1 million people), has the second highest GDP per capita in the country ($84,390), and is the home to the city with the second most businesses’ headquarters in Canada, Calgary.

On May 5th of 2015 Alberta had its 29th general provincial elections, where the New Democratic Party took down the the Progressive Conservatives who had been in power for the past 44 years. Quite the feat to say the least.

Voter Turnout

This time around we had an amazing number of voters take their opinions to the ballots, amounting to the highest turnout in 22 years. Out of 2,543,127 possible voters, 1,481,477 voted (58.25%). It is not where we would like it to be yet, but it’s a huge step in the political scene of Alberta.

Living in Alberta for the past 7 years, I’ve noticed that politics isn’t much of a conversation topic at the dinner table. Growing up in Brazil, politics account for nearly 100% of the conversation in any given day (mostly due to corruption scandals, however).

I still have my doubts about how much that was due to the Netflix hit series “House of Cards”, but so be it.

So, here we are today, May 6th, looking at a somewhat unknown future for ourselves as Albertans.

Policies

Over the past few months we could read a lot about what each party was going to offer (click here for more) if they were elected on May 5th. And, as of the past week we could see an unmeasurable amount of party signs on our lawns everywhere we went.

It all came down to a battle between two parties, really, the Progressive Conservatives (PC) vs the New Democratic Party (NDP).

Below you can watch a 30 minute condensed debate held on April 23rd of 2015 between the PC, NDP, the Wildrose, and the Liberal parties. It is easy to see that the Wildrose party was on the defensive the whole time – “we will not increase income taxes” – and the Liberal party was trying to squeeze in an argument here and there from time to time. The show really went down between Jim Prentice (PC) and Rachel Notley (NDP), who were both on the offensive throughout the program.


 

Oil companies were all in favor of the Progressive Conservatives (PC), who’s main points were:

  • maintaining existing two-tier corporate taxes (3% for small businesses and 10% for businesses with more than $500,000 in annual revenues);
  • adding $18 billion to the Heritage Fund (fund to support government programs in healthcare and education) over the course of 6 years;
  • funding long-term infrastructure capital assets in the province;
  • protecting jobs and getting off the boom/bust oil field cycle.

Whereas a large part of the population – especially after the debate – was supporting the New Democratic Party (NDP), who’s main points were:

  • funding of the Office of the Auditor General, which helps identify wasteful spending and regulatory mismanagement;
  • in-province refining and upgrading to create more value-added industries in Alberta;
  • improving transportation and access to local markets in the Agricultural sector;
  • improving healthcare, education, and job creation within a fair revenue creation system.

Outcome

Once the NDP was announced winner of the 2015 election many people took their opinions to the social media platforms claiming that now we are all doomed.

Maybe NDP’s idea of increasing corporate taxes by 20% (from 10% to 12%) in a time of economic crisis is a bold movement, but so was the PC’s budgetary cuts in healthcare and education in April to compensate for the province’s deficit.

Having election in times like these is always though, because each person has their own concerns about what should be fixed and what should be left untouched, but the matter of the fact is that politics’ issues go way beyond what an average person could comprehend. If you put money here, something has got to give there – there is a lot at stake and a lot of people to look after.

No politician will ever be able to make everyone happy. What political parties intend to do is to propose their ideas to solve a problem. Each one has their own set of solutions, and as Albertans we had to bet our money on one of them.

I believe that change is always good, especially one that hasn’t happened in over 40 years. I understand that what gives Alberta an edge over the rest of the world is our low corporate taxes, what attracts capital investment making of us a free enterprise province. But I also understand that we need to look at the long run.

We need higher investment in education and healthcare. We cannot allow our governments to take money out of those sectors because they are what make society progress. The business environment is changing and we are in a higher need of educated workers in the market than ever before (that is why the federal and provincial governments have so many programs in place to attract qualified immigrants to Canada). And we also need to reduce waiting times at the E.R. without privatizing our healthcare system – because in the end of the day we need our people alive.

Can we expect the NDP government to set up stricter environmental rules to the oil companies? Yes. Can we also expect the NDP government to create over 27,000 jobs? Yes. That is what Rachel Notley preached during her campaign, and now as Albertans our duty is to help the province continue to move forward.

Will the NDP make mistakes along the way? Of course. But we should trust our leadership and work with them to help make Alberta’s vision of progressing into a role-model province become a reality.

There is no reason to complain if you didn’t vote NDP, quite yet. And there’s is no reason to celebrate if you voted NDP quite yet, either.

 

PA

Earth Gazing Through The Lens of Astronauts

” To have that experience of awe is, at least for the moment, to let go of yourself, to try to send that sense of separation, so it’s not just that they were experiencing something other than them, but that they were at some very deep level integrating, realizing the interconnectedness with that beautiful blooming ball…” – David Loy, in Overview

On this mini-movie “Overview” released in 2012, through a series of interviews with astronauts and philosophers, you really get to see Earth from a different perspective.

There’s one thing astronauts said they caught themselves doing more often than not while in space, which was what they they called “Earth Gazing”. In their respective missions the focus often was on the Moon, or on the Stars, or on Mars, but once they were up there they had a profound realization when they looked back at what was behind them.

They describe Earth as a “oasis in the middle of nothingness”. In “Overview” a series of images and video clips takes you to a place of speechlessness, of just pure amazement where talking about what you’re seeing doesn’t matter at the moment.

Seeing Earth just floating in the middle of infinity, with its constantly changing ecosystem mutating through auroras, thunder storms, cloud formations, ocean currents, and human presence makes you wonder what are you here for.

Being here is extremely hard to think about these things, because we are so caught up in the lives that we’ve created for ourselves, our problems, our jobs, our relationships, that we never take the time to look at what’s around us.

I’ve always said that, so far, the one thing that has amazed me the most in this short period of life that I have gotten to experience on Earth is the human spirit.

Looking how far humanity has come, from hundreds of thousands of years ago to today, we get to look up to the skies and “see” people adventuring into the cosmos. Just imagine going back and telling our cavemen ancestors that one day we would be up there.

This film will have some profound effect on you the same way it had on me. Enjoy and share it with others!

 

PA

The Mysterious Power of Our Unconsciousness

Do you know that feeling when something inside your mind already knows what to do, but you’re still trying to reason your way around it?

That “something inside your head” happens to be your instincts.

The same way the Canadian Geese know when it’s time to fly south, your mind knows when it’s time to let go, or when an opportunity is right for you, or when danger is around the corner.

We all neglect our instincts because we live in a world where reason rules. We must always be in control. We must always know what is going on, and if something doesn’t make sense, we shouldn’t listen to it.

In Blink Malcom Gladwell tells us a little bit about what happens in our unconscious, and why we should listen to it more often.

What’s Behind that Locked Door

What's hidden behind that door can help you make major life decisions.

What’s hidden behind that door can help you make major life decisions.

Baseball movies. We have all watched one. Where the entire franchise decides to draft a particular player because of its batting percentage and other loads of stats, but that one old man who has been around the game for decades tells them otherwise. He tells them that that other player that has a lower batting percentage is a better choice for the team. Nobody wants to believe him, and as it turns out in the end he was right.

That old man does something that those businessmen and statisticians don’t often do: he listens to that little voice inside his head.

Gladwell tells the story about one of the world’s top tennis coaches named Vic Braden who began noticing something unusual whenever he watched a tennis match.

In tennis, the players are given two chances to serve the ball across the net, and if they fail twice in a roll the point goes to the opposition. That’s called a double-fault. In professional tennis, double-faults happen once every 100 serves or so. Those are very rare.

Vic Braden began noticing that milliseconds before any player would serve he knew whether he/she would commit a double fault. He decided to bring his friends along and keep track of how many times he would get it right: he would call out loud (not that loud, since that would distract the players) whenever a double-fault was about to happen and they kept a tab of his success rate. In the course of numerous games he would get twenty out of twenty right!

Vic would spend numerous nights sleepless trying to figure out how he was doing that. He wasn’t noticing anything unusual about the player’s form, or the wind direction, or anything else; he just knew it when it was about to happen.

That snap judgement Braden was making in the blink of an eye was coming from what was behind that locked door in the back of his mind.

How our Unconsciousness Works

Behind that locked door are infinite amounts of information that Vic Braden had been collecting over the course of his career in tennis. Information that most of the time went unnoticed by his conscious mind, but his unconsciousness picked it up.

In an experiment ran by a psychologist named Norman R. F. Maier we can see exactly how much influence our unconsciousness has over our conscious decisions.

He tied two ropes to the ceiling of a room full of objects far enough that you couldn’t touch both at the same time, and asked people to come up with as many ways as possible to tie both ropes together. There are four possible solutions to this problem:

  1. stretch the rope as far as possible, anchor it to a chair, then go and grab the other rope
  2. tie an extension cord to the end of a rope so it is long enough to reach the other rope
  3. grab one rope with one hand and use a pole to bring the other rope towards you
  4. swing the first rope back and forth and simultaneously grab the other rope and attach them together

Most people figured out the first three solutions. But the last one, only a few thought of it. Ten minutes later, Maier would walk across the room without telling them anything and swing a rope by the window. Right then and then people would think aha! and went on to figure out the fourth solution.

After the experiment, he asked the people how they thought of swinging the rope, and most people answered that they didn’t know, it just came to their minds.

Norman concluded that our unconsciousness can pick up on things that our consciousness cannot. We can only process so many things at once in our minds, but behind that locked door our unconscious can process a lot more.

Survival Instincts

Malcom Gladwell points out that throughout the lifetime of a police officer only about 10% of them get involved in a real life shooting. And from the testimonials that the police departments get, it is nothing like what we see in Hollywood films.

We can find a few descriptions in common as we read the testimonials:

  • I couldn’t hear anything
  • My vision went blurry and I could only see the target
  • I could watch my bullets entering the suspect’s body

All of these seem strange, and almost impossible. But that is a perfect example of our instincts taking over.

Dave Grossman, a former army lieutenant colonel and author of On Killing, argues that the “optimal” state of arousal is when your heart rate is in between 115bpm and 145bpm. In that window our instincts are believed to serve us the most good and we can make snap decisions very quickly.

Larry Bird had the ability to slow things down and make instinctive decisions in the blink of an eye.

Larry Bird had the ability to slow things down and make instinctive decisions in the blink of an eye.

Larry Bird was one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA. He was known to have “great court vision” and a “feel for the game” that very few others had. He claims that in the final moments of the game the stadium would go quiet and he could not see anyone in the stands. As a result, he could knock down the game winning shot more times than not. He played at that “optimal” range of beats per minute.

The reason why we hear stories of people doing impossible things in moments of stress is because some people manage to operate in the optimal heart rate range when faced with “danger”. And if it wasn’t for those very same instincts humanity would not have survived as long as it has so far.

When to Listen to Your Instincts

The question that you’re left with by the end of Blink  is: “when should I listen to my instincts and when should I reason through a problem?”.

Gladwell says that we should consciously analyze a problem when the issue is straight-forward, such as planning your work schedule or negotiating a better price in a purchase. When questions of analysis and personal choice start to become more complicated, we should rely on the big computer hiding behind that locked door since it can handle more variables than our consciousness.

Our unconsciousness is there for a reason, and it has helped humanity survive through over 200,000 years of danger. Neglecting it would be foolish of us, the same way it wouldn’t be very smart to solely rely on it. Starting to develop a better feel for when to listen to what’s behind that locked door is what will strengthen your decision-making skills.

 

PA

Pocket: The Knowledge Tool Missing on Your Phone

Every knowledge wizard needs his tools in order to maintain the wizard status.

This is what their logo looks like.

This is what their logo looks like.

This app is one of those tools.

Pocket is a not so widely known app that enables most successful people to read everything they stumble upon online and get ahead of everyone else.

I discovered this one when reading a Business Insider article and never looked back since then. If I had to pick one app to have on my phone, this would be the one (yeah Facebook, you’ve been demoted).

By following a few simple steps upon opening the app you can set up a Pocket button on any of your devices that will save anything (from videos to articles) to your Pocket account and keep it there for whenever you have extra time to read it.

And once saved, you don’t need internet connection to access your saved articles (only the archived ones – the ones you’ve read already), so this is perfect for when you’re commuting to work or even when you’re sitting on the porcelain throne.

Download this app here for Iphone users and here for Samsung users.

 

PA