Richard Newton: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

Newton, RichardIn his own words….

I’m an entrepreneur who writes.

I’ve written three books.

The End of Nice: How to be human in a world run by robots: This is a manifesto for human creativity in the age of machines, big data and automation.

I wrote Stop Talking, Start Doing: A Kick in the Pants in Six Parts with my co-author Shaa Wasmund: This was a best-selling business book in the UK and has been published in 15 languages.

And I’ve written The Little Book of Thinking Big: Aim Higher and Go Further Than You Ever Thought Possible, published by Capstone/A Wiley Brand. It hit the Sunday Times #1 spot for business bestsellers.

For almost ten years I wrote about business for The Sunday Telegraph, The Mail on Sunday and others. Then I switched sides to walk the talk and run my own business.

A few years ago I co-founded a company called OP3Nvoice (now called which was described by Giga-Om as the emerging Google of video and audio. We moved the HQ to Austin, Texas, after going through the Techstars program in London.

Before that I co-founded Screendragon, a software company that supplies brand management and project managements systems for many of the world’s largest consumer brands and ad agencies. It was hell and it was exciting. Sometimes simultaneously.

In 2014 I shifted back to writing. I write on technology companies, start up culture, and innovation for The Financial Times, Guardian, British Airways Business Life, and Virgin Entrepreneur blogs, my own blogs and elsewhere.

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of Rich.

* * *

Morris: I agree with your suggestion in The Little Book of Big Thinking. that valuable lessons can sometimes be learned from the most unlikely sources if (HUGE “if”) if we are retain an open mind and are receptive. For example, what can be learned from a sea squirt?

Newton: The life cycle of the sea squirt struck me as an excellent motif for the book. I came across it by complete serendipity, as I usually do when writing, just as I was trying to find a vivid way to illustrate the difference between using your mind to direct your life and using it to drift. I’d been thinking about a phrase a non-executive director at one of my companies often used about “busy fools”. That I think is the life of many of us. But it wasn’t striking.

And then I happened to open a biology book – which isn’t something I often do! – and came across the story of a sea squirt which was a perfect metaphor.

And a sea squirt, for those readers who like me were unaware, is a small tadpole-like creature that swims around the ocean finding things to eat. And one day it attaches itself to a rock or an old piece of coral and it never moves again. And because it will never again move it has no need for a brain. So it consumes it. It eats its own brain. And so, “use it or eat it” became the motif for the introductory chapter of the book.

Please explain the phrase, “Excellent Sheep.”

Newton: This is a phrase used by a student of William Deresowicz’s and the author then appropriated it as the title of his book. His concern is that students are learning to be excellent at passing every challenge placed before them. And for the best, most excellent students this often means going to the best Ivy League university and then a Wall Street bank or golden circle law firm and continuing on a path that could have been set for them before they were born. Thus they achieve excellence in life – provide you take a narrow view on what it means to live an excellent life. But it’s a life that lacks wholeheartedness or individuality. I fear that as automation, robots, artificial Intelligence and big data come sweeping into our lives these excellent sheep will struggle to live with the “unmooredness” that comes from having to constantly adapt and reinvent which will be the new way of living that our constantly accelerating world will demand of us.

Morris: Richard Feynman once observed, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” Do you agree? Please explain.

Newton: Absolutely. Science requires a skeptical posture. The opposite of such skepticism is faith.

Morris: You make brilliant use of symbols. For example, a white horse. What is its significance? Its relevance?

Newton: I’d read something a Buddhist monk had said about life being like a wave that moved from one shore to another. At any point in time the wave is in a state of flux. So the wave at any given instant is always unique; it is constantly changing and yet it is the product of everything that has gone before.

And I was looking to explain how everyone has a unique perspective on life because of their unique experiences. And thus they may have a unique solution or approach to challenges and opportunities. the wave seems like a good way to express this. And the idea itself could be represented by the foamy crest of a wave that sometimes bubbles up and then dissipates.

So the phrase, white horse. Well, I don’t know if you use the same phrase or whether it’s an English thing, or even a Newton family phrase, but when we used to go on holiday to Cornwall in the South West of England or to France we would always judge the state of the sea by looking for what we called “white horses”. These are the foamy crests that tell you it’s a blustery and choppy day on the sea. If the sea is calm then there are no white horses.

So the white horses became the metaphor for your unique idea that comes up for a moment of time and is special to you because your wave has travelled a path that is your life alone.

The trick is to recognise this and believe in and then capture the value of your idea: your contribution to the world.

* * *

To read all of Part 2, please click here.

To check out Part 1, please click here.

Rich cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

Wait But Why link

Brain Pickings link

xkcd link

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