Discover more from The Ruffian
Oh, to the beat of the rhythm of the night
This week: the upside of failure, the downside of memory, and an interview with the greatest songwriter you've never heard of (of whom you've never heard, if you want to be picky about it).
EVERY LOSER WINS
The authors of this paper analysed a database of applications for research grants. They looked at junior scientists who applied and either fell just below, or just above the funding threshold. Then they tracked the career paths of those who had a "near-miss", versus those who had a "near-win". Over the next ten years, the near missers went on to have more success than the near-winners. Nietzsche was right: what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. A lot of highly successful people experience a significant bereavement early in life (both Lennon and McCartney among them, of course), and silver medal winners tend to outlive gold medallists (which might not be much consolation to Annie Vernon). Hard as it is believe when you're going through them, setbacks can be rocket fuel. Just as muscles grow stronger by encountering resistance, we develop resilience and creativity when the world pushes back on our desires. Paradoxically, growing up with every material desire easily met probably makes it harder to be a high-achieving adult. We like to jeer at the notion that rich people can have a hard time but I do think extreme wealth brings its own distinctive and interesting set of problems - so I enjoyed this interview with Abigail Disney, heiress to the Disney fortune, who reflects thoughtfully on what's like to be insanely rich.
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FORGET ABOUT IT
In this week's Digital Dispatch for the New Statesman I discuss digital hoarding and the creative power of forgetting.
LOVE THE PLAYER
Football, bloody hell. What a week. At the very top of the game, fitness, tactical intelligence and skill levels are closer than ever. The biggest differentiator is mindset. Spurs and LFC both have managers who are masters at instilling a relentless drive to compete into their teams. Actually, it's not just drive, but a kind of joy, a love for playing, in the fullest sense of that word, which blasts away nerves and stress under intense pressure. That was crystallised in the most extraordinary moment of the week, maybe the season: Trent Alexander Arnold's corner kick, catching out almost the entire Barcelona team and creating Liverpool's winning goal. The stakes could have hardly have been higher, the moment more momentous - and he does this? The speed of mind and body (his and Origi's) is incredible, but what really struck me is the sheer glee of it.
An ecologist noticed that the vultures of Spain follow the Spanish-Portugese border with uncanny accuracy. Why would that be, he wondered? There's no abrupt change in climate or land-use on either side of the line. The key difference, he discovered, is the law. Honestly, who doesn't love a bio-cultural feedback loop?
Last year I wrote about how the ad industry has become obsessed with data-driven targeting at the expense of more intangible things like trust and meaning. It's an argument that can sometimes seem a bit theoretical to people at the business-end of business, which is why it was satisfying to read the recent remarks of the Australian CEO and entrepreneur Bruce Buchanan, basically making the same point but in fewer words. Businesses obsess over cost per customer acquisition, he says, but many haven't grasped that until customers know and trust your brand they're a lot more expensive to acquire. CMOs have masses of data on the point of purchase, and so they concentrate on conversion. The harder thing is spending money on something which has a deferred, hard-to-measure payoff: brand perception. But it's a classic human error to conflate what we can measure with what is valuable.
The Troubled Families programme was a big, innovative and controversial Cameron-era welfare policy which targeted help towards a small number of families who were putting a disproportionate demand on frontline public services. It was controversial mostly because it was said to demonise those families, partly because it was headed by Louise Casey, not your average civil servant, and also because it didn't include a good plan for measuring impact. Well, it has now been evaluated very rigorously, and you know what, with some qualifications, it worked. This news has of course made no news whatsoever. (I'm adding it to my list of evidence that the Coalition government was actually Not Terrible, which includes automatic pension enrolment, the living wage, and some of the education reforms.)
I loved this brilliantly vivid portrayal of Lis Smith, the spin doctor behind Pete Buttigieg's rise. What a force of nature she is, and how well the writer brings her alive. Read it if only for the paragraph on Smith's virtuoso swearing.
This week I caught up with this terrific conversation with Diane Warren, one of the world's greatest living songwriters. You may not know about her, but if you've been listening to pop and rock since the 80s I can pretty much guarantee you know about twenty of her songs. Rhythm of the Night, Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now, Unbreak My Heart, If I Could Turn Back Time, I Don't Want To Miss a Thing...and she's still writing monster hits for the likes of Paloma Faith and Lady Gaga. Every one is a pop gem; even those you think you hate are masterpieces of structure and sentiment. As an interviewee, she's great: funny, profane, a self-described 'weirdo', and someone who, despite writing heart-bursting songs of romantic yearning, has zero personal interest in love - alluding to one of her biggest hits, she says, "I don't want hear anyone breathing at night". Notwithstanding its lack of killer hooks I also heartily recommend the latest episode of Polarised, in which Matthew Taylor and I talk religion and politics with the brilliant Elizabeth Oldfield.
You probably read this one already but just in case it passed you by - Anjelica Huston is glorious.