Tennesse Williams on Success and Struggle

I recently read a short essay called “A Streetcar Named Success” by Tennessee Williams, the renowned mid-twentieth century American playwright who wrote A Street Car Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie. The essay talks about how life became a bit disjointed after he became “successful” and started living a life of luxury — living in a hotel and getting room service all the time. He started hanging out with different people, found it difficult to be creative, and just felt more detached from the world.

One does not escape that easily from the seductions of an effete [1] way of life. You cannot arbitrarily say to yourself, I will now continue my life as it was before this thing. Success happened to me. But once you fully apprehend the vacuity [2] of a life without struggle you are equipped with the basic means of salvation. Once you know this is true, that the heart of man, his body and his brain, are forged in a white-hot furnace for the purpose of conflict (the struggle of creation) and that with the conflict removed, the man is a sword cutting daisies, that not privation but luxury is the wolf at the door and that the fangs of this wolf are all the little vanities and conceits [3] and laxities that Success is heir to–why, then with this knowledge you are at least in a position of knowing where danger lies.Tennessee Williams

For Williams, it was only when he relocated out of New York and to a random town in Mexico, where no one knew who he was and he had to struggle a bit more in his daily living was he able to find his creative energies again. While not everyone needs to go to such extremes to keep themselves, his point is well taken.

Even nearly 70 years after it was published, the essay a great reminder that while we often struggle to achieve a life of freedom and ease, we need struggle and hardship to keep ourselves going.

Read the whole thing here: On a Streetcar Named Success

Definitions for some of the more obscure terms:

[1] effete = pretentious [2] vacuity = emptiness [3] conceits = excessive pride in oneself

Beyond the 10,000 Hour Rule: Talking with Anders Ericsson on How People Reach Expert Performance

We’re all familiar with the 10,000 hour rule, which was made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2010 bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success. In it, Gladwell makes the argument that 10,000 hours of practice is a critical number that separates the great from the truly extraordinary. One of the bodies of work Gladwell relied on to support his thesis were from research by Florida State University Psychology Professor K. Anders Ericsson, the granddaddy of research on how people developing expertise.

Ericsson studied violinists from the West Berlin Music Academy: the highest performing students did not differ significantly from average or low performing students by IQ, family background, or other factors. The only thing that separated top students who and those who would likely end up as music teachers was the total number of hours they had logged over their lifetime engaged in deliberate, focused, independent music practice.

By the age of 20, the top students had logged over 10,000 hours of this kind of training — a nice round number that Gladwell hammered home over and over again in Outliers. [1]  Continue reading…

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The New Napster: How Sci-Hub is Blowing Up the Academic Publishing Industry

There has been an explosive new development in how scientific research is read and distributed. It’s name is Sci-Hub.

Founded in 2011 by Alexandra Elbakyan (who was, at the time, a 22 year-old graduate student based in Kazakhstan), the site has seen a major uptick in the last year. In February 2016, 6M+ scientific papers were downloaded from Sci-Hub, including articles from major journals like Nature and Science, to more niche titles across many fields, by hundreds of thousands of researchers all across the globe [1]. Simply by punching in a paper title or a DOI (document object identifier), which is a kind of ID number for scientific papers, researchers can get immediate, free access to 50M+ articles on the site. Continue reading…


The Science of Growth with Sean Ammirati (2-time Founder Turned VC)

I recently finished reading a new book about startups. It’s called The Science of Growth: How Facebook Beat Friendster and How Nine Other Startups Left the Rest in the Dust. It’s written by Sean Ammirati, who is a partner at Birchmere Ventures and an Adjunct Professor at Carnegie Mellon, where he teaches a courses on entrepreneurship. He was previously COO of ReadWriteWeb and cofounded mSpoke, a content recommendation engine that was acquired by LinkedIn.

The book is a spiritual successor to Four Steps to the Epiphany, in that it is an intellectual framework for thinking about high-growth entrepreneurship written someone with deep experience in the field. While there’s a cursory similarity to Good to Great / Great by Choice in comparing pairs of winner/loser companies, it really shines as a way of thinking about, talking about, and analyzing startups at different stages of growth: Continue reading…


Delivering My First Keynote Speech

In September of 2015, I received a short email with an invitation:

Hi Jason,

I am part of a non-profit public relations association that is interested in having you speak at our annual conference. Are you currently accepting speaking engagements for 2016? We don’t have an exact date but are looking at spring and would be willing to work with your schedule if we find that we can afford your fee!

Thank you for your consideration!

The email was from Robyn Bridges, the Vice President of the Auburn-Opelika Tourism Bureau, and a member of the East Alabama chapter of the Public Relations Council of Alabama (PRCA).

So began a fascinating journey which culminated with my giving a 90 min keynote presentation at the Auburn University Hotel this past Wednesday to kick off PRCA’s annual state conference. Here’s how it happened.. Continue reading…