From Ingestion to Digestion: lessons from a year in books, podcasts, and dialogue

52 weeks of education from 52 books, 500+ hours of podcasts, and endless conversations

Fueled by technology, our society is obsessed with the new and next big thing. While neomania drives our ability to continually ideate/design/build/ship, it also leaves little time for introspection and reflection. I’m no exception. I have a genuine love for enrichment through education, and my brain acts as a sponge, absorbing knowledge and constantly seeking its applications. This time last year, I set out intent on ensuring that my learning did not stop simply because I was no longer in an academic setting.

Over 52 weeks, I read 52 books, listened to 500+ hours of podcasts, perused thousands of articles/blog posts, and enjoyed a myriad of interesting conversations. But ingesting information for the sake of information isn’t nearly as valuable as digesting it, drawing your own conclusions, and sharing it with others. There is tremendous value in pausing to look back on all that has been gathered to connect the dots. Dakota Shane Nunley wrote a great piece reflecting on his life learnings from this past year so I wanted to write some of my own takeaways in hopes of paying tribute to my contemporary mentors.

From doctors and economists to venture capitalists and everyone in between, a new generation of thinkers and creators are leading the charge to change the world. The following 5 points were key lessons they expressed or demonstrated time and time again that we can apply to better our own lives.

1. Set positive constraints

“Decisions lead to options, options to choices, choices to freedom.” — MK Asante

It seems counter-intuitive. Constraints usually hold negative connotations, but positive ones can help keep our harried lives in check. Once we identify our priorities, we can set rules around them, which in turn can be incredibly liberating.

For many successful individuals, waking up at or before 5am was the norm. This gave them ample opportunity to read, meditate, spend a few hours devoted to their most important morning rituals. For others, I often saw a recurring commitment to spend time with loved ones sans tech. Emails were only to be checked at certain times of day and time off meant time unplugged.

These micro decisions did not come at the expense of convenience. Instead, they behaved as guidelines to optimize happiness.

2. The path to success is rarely linear

Very few people interviewed or written about knew exactly what they wanted to do/be when they grew older. Some had a semblance of the industry they wanted to be in or some functional role they wanted to occupy, but the most impressive, knowledgeable leaders revealed a non-linear career progression.

By being unafraid to replace what they do with what they aspired to do, they opened doors to meeting people and being exposed to new industries. This provided unique opportunities to grow and be challenged while others around them provided support and resources.

“When you say what you want, you give others the opportunity to help you make your dreams come true.” — Bruce Kasanoff

Look at the diverse careers of John Maeda, Andrew Chen, and Karlie Kloss. Heck, look at the Rock (ahem, that’s Dwayne The Rock Johnson). They are proof that success is not just one upward vertical climb.

3. Be obsessed

Look at this awesome iceberg image. That is why every single accomplished person is obsessed with whatever it is they do.

Success is bright and shiny and easily celebrated. What is rarely highlighted is the grueling work it takes to get there.

To get better at something, it takes commitment and diligence. Atul Gawande said that “[betterment] does not take genius…it takes a willingness to try.” No one writes about what lies beneath the tip of the success iceberg because more often than not, diligence is mundane. So find something to be obsessed with to make the hundred thousand steps to betterment worthwhile.

4. The devil is in the details

The importance of user experience was stressed above all else this year. Especially when it came to technology and digital content, the maturation of the web meant that design remained as a key product differentiator.

It’s easy to write off great design because good design solutions feel obvious. Facebook designer Julie Zhou and sushi chef Jiro Ono both understood that mastering the art of simplicity entailed a deep understanding of complexity’s depth and being able to strip away the non-essentials. This process calls for a venerable number of iterations, a painstaking attention to detail, and a holistic understanding of the essence of a product.

Without such meticulous behavior, we would have been stuck with functional products that never graduated to become the usable and beautiful products we know and love today.

5. Ask honestly and listen earnestly

Every single writer, CEO, designer, founder, contributor repeated this mantra in one way or another. If I could recommend one book from the dozens I read this year, it would hands down be Americanah by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In it, she has a quote that encapsulates this last point that I won’t even try to paraphrase:

“ If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.”

Ask honestly and listen earnestly. Doing so can only spread a little more empathy to the world.

Consolidating a full year’s worth of knowledge into five points almost does a disservice to the collective wisdom of all the information out there. It’s been humbling to have access to so much, only to realize that what I have learned only scratches the surface of many of these subjects.

But I’m also excited. We can learn via almost any medium today and as more and more people around the world gain access to the web, anyone with internet connection can access this knowledge. We can learn more, faster, better than ever before so long as we are humble enough to admit what we don’t know. All of these lessons remain tried and true, and as we head into another year, I can only hope to continue learning and adding to this list.

For anyone who is curious, you can find my 2015 reads here, and I always welcome book/podcast/article suggestions via my twitter @minney_cat.

Special thanks: 
The quantity and quality of information I ingested this year would have been impossible without the help of some of my new favourite apps. Even within the veritable mountain of quality content out there, Overcast, Pocket, Medium,, and Airtable were instrumental in gathering, recommending, organizing, and consolidating the very best to help me on this educational journey.


Introducing: In What World, a podcast

Conversations on how tech is changing society

Originally posted to our Medium Publication ‘In What World

A few weeks ago, my co-host Patrick and I launched the pilot episode of our podcast, In What World. In it, Patrick and I talk about some of today’s shifting technologies and how they are redefining our understanding of social, economic relations. And as we release more episodes, we wanted to share some words on how and why In What World came to be.


Patrick and I are part of a unique generation that’s experienced one hell of a technological revolution. We remember what it was like to watch movies on VHS, learn to type on some of the first web pages on The World Wide Web, and stay in touch with our friends via AIM. Two decades later, we’re living in an even more sophisticated society that boasts online social networks connecting millions (sometimes billions) of users, mobile devices rivaling the computing power of desktops, and an increasingly online world.

These advancements have made the seemingly impossible possible and ushered in a new era of amazing products, services, and companies. With the transition into a consumerism driven culture, we in the developed world experience nearly instantaneous communication, access to troves of data, and convenience like never before. And admittedly, we’ve largely benefited from a host of these novelties.

Patrick and I met via an app — the kind of tech whose existence is evidence of the shifting ways in which people interact. We met to make new friends in a new city but remained connected for our shared love for conversation. We spent a lot of time talking about how ordinary lives are being shaped by extraordinary changes and asked each other challenging questions on what that might mean for our future. These concerns don’t have black and white implications, and we’re not exactly sure how the future will shape out. However, we are sure of this:

technology is changing how we interact with the world, and we need to talk about
how it’s doing so.

The tech industry holds fast to its belief in “build now, mend later.” And while the lean, iterative process of creation enables enormous creativity and risk-taking, it leaves little room for reflection. So after months of dialogue, we decided to create this podcast to share our thoughts with you.

In What World is our place to discuss how recent innovations are impacting lives. We believe that thoughtful conversations can help us become better informed individuals, and we hope you’ll enjoy what we make. Along the way, we’ll continue to share our process of creating this podcast and what we are learning from it as well.

And we want you to be a part of our conversations. So Tweet at us, write to us, and let us know what’s on your mind in the world of tech in society. We’ll continue to need your honest feedback on what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s missing to deliver a meaningful audial experience.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned.