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The things we love the most are frail. So easily broken and crumpled. The balances in our lives are so delicate, the difference between happy and distraught so slight, the stay on this earth so short. We know of this frailty but we don’t appreciate it enough. We tend to live like we have a plan without knowing the universe really has the plan and we are just short-term travelers. While we know of this frailty in us, we don’t appreciate it enough in others. How much they struggle, how much they feel like crumpled petals.

Last night I went to a Herbert Groenemeyer concert (Germany’s biggest rock star and musical artist) and the lyrics to “Mensch” touched me deeply:

and it’s, it’s ok
everything is on its way
and it is apparent time
unclouded and easy
and the human is called human
because he errs and because he fights
and because he hopes and loves
because he sympathizes and forgives
because he forgets
because he represses
and because he raves and believes
leans and trusts
and because he laughs
and because he lives
you are missed
He wrote this song after his wife died young, dealing with grief and children at home in desperate need of his support and belief that everything will be ok.
It was a beautiful moment when 15,000 people sang the lyrics, all little petals with hopes, fears and tragedies. Everybody just looking for nourishment through love and empathy. All in that moment. A moment that will never happen again. We sang through our frailty and individual desperation. And it was more than ok.


We had plans who we wanted to become when we were children. I wanted to be a pilot, a surgeon, Jesus (don’t ask) and German Chancellor. Suddenly, life takes over. Energy is used to manage life and you become more focused on incrementally improving what exists than creating something that doesn’t exist at all.

And, then you lose sight of exactly who you want to be. It becomes a story to tell your friends (“Can you imagine, I wanted to be surgeon at one point?”) Another beer and you forget about it. You stall.

That’s a nagging realization I’ve been dealing with for a while. And you ask yourself: Is this the best I can be? Or, is there a better me that I want to become?

Life becomes so much easier once you know who you want to be. You can craft a plan, make choices who to meet, what you need to learn, what skills you might have to perfect.

You have a problem when you don’t know who you want to be. You are just floating, relying on fate and luck. You will get by, you might even be successful. But you are never going to become who you want to be if you don’t deal with the constant push, the constant resistance. You might want the world to work a certain way but the world is strong and will push back. And you need to keep going, no matter what. I guarantee you will give up if you are uncertain who you want to be.

Here’s a secret I want to share with you: You will grow older (if you’re lucky and healthy), over time you will become irrelevant, your views outdated, you will die and you will be forgotten.

That’s the plan of the universe.

What is your plan?

Vernon Johns said: “You should avoid hedging, at least that’s what I think. You should be ashamed to die until you’ve made some contribution to mankind.”

Let’s get to it.



















For the last few years, I replaced New Year’s Resolutions with One-Word Intentions. It feels more valuable to have an intention as a guide for the year.

2019 will be the year of depth.

The real magic happens when you focus, do deep work and don’t get distracted by the outside world, trying to capture your attention.

Real moments with your family and friends happen when you are in the moment.

It’s deeper than screens down or limiting your social presence. It’s letting go of optimization and focusing on transformation. It’s about contentment with the path, not getting to perfect. Deeply exploring opportunities, emotions and realities. And it’s about being present.

The vision for 2019 is to go deep through experiences, conversations, life, and work – delving into what really matters and what really makes a difference. This will be my journey for 2019. What will be yours?


The role of a teacher is a challenging one. The teacher has to think on her feet. She must understand the different levels of knowledge, emotional readiness and required processing of information to make her students successful. Some people are better at this than others.  The good teacher knows the answers to questions that could be found in a couple of Google searches. But those well-worn answers are not the ones that transform a good learning experience into a great one.

A gifted teacher will offer answers to the questions that the student hadn’t thought to ask. She will empathize, anticipate and delight—going out of her way to be creative and do work she’s proud of—just because she can.

It’s possible in every job to learn your lines, stick to the script and offer the required solution. Nobody will question your competence if you show up on time, put in the hours and don’t make mistakes. But the work that’s most appreciated and valued now isn’t simply the compliant or the competent—it’s the creative work you do, not because it’s required, but because you can.



Shane Parrish, author of the highly recommended Farnam Street blog, had a great post  about defensive decision making – the type of decision making that focuses on what “looks right” vs. what “is right.”

Defensive decision making is the “IBM” option. Since “no one got fired for buying an IBM,” it is intended to protect the decision maker. Organizations can often create a massive decision-consequence asymmetry in that they become so risk-averse that most decisions come with small upside if they go well and large downside if something goes wrong (e.g. get fired).

The natural reaction is to just make the “default” decision. Nobody has to worry about their reputation and negative outcomes can be easily defended. That’s why so many companies ask their stakeholders to think outside of the box but rarely implement any of those ideas.

And, that’s why culture is more important than hiring the right people. In general, smart people prefer to choose solutions that are right. But it requires the nudge of a culture that incentivizes attempting decisions that are right instead of rewarding those that look right.


Our brain directs us to convenience. It wants the quick delivery, the immediate reward, the instant fix. There is proof that focusing on the good creates more good. Positive thinking largely improves your mood and makes life significantly more enjoyable. But we also need challenges and adversity.

If we are kept in a constant state of comfort and convenience, our brain will compensate by creating a problem to overcome. Suddenly, we are worried about flying, crossing the street, an irregular heartbeat, foreigners and a falling sky. Anxiety. Sometimes panic. The cultural obsession with chasing happiness, shielding oneself from anything triggering, and the idea that life is primarily “good” and any challenge we face is a mistake of fate actually weakens us mentally. Shielding the mind from any adversity makes us more vulnerable to anxiety, panic and chaos.

Adversity makes you creative. It activates a part of you that is often latent. It makes things interesting. Part of the human narrative is wanting something to overcome. It’s the essence of the human experiment. Choosing to exit your comfort zone and endure pain for that which you believe is worth enduring for.

Humans need tension, resistance, adversity, and pain to break and transform. Embracing the grit of it all was what you were made for. Embrace discomfort.


Society defines success by income, status symbols and measurable results. Not Ralph Waldo Emerson:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

A good reminder that success and your worth should never be defined by society and others. It must be defined by each one us individually.


The two top right windows on the right (with shades drawn) are my office. 

My office is in the Amsterdam Jewish Quarter.  In 1700 there were 10.000 Jews living in Amsterdam, the biggest Jewish community of Western-Europe. Many arrived from wealthy Spain and Portugal in Amsterdam and brought important trade contracts, thereby boosting the Amsterdam economy of the Golden Age. The Second World War ended the Jewish history of Amsterdam, as only 28.000 Amsterdam Jews out of 120.000 survived the Second World War.

The building used to be a synagogue. The entrance still displays the Star of David.


The office building, used to be the home of the Family Roeper. Benjamin Roeper moved in 1927 together with his wife Eva de Lange and their two children. Benjamin and his son worked in the synagogue. His daughter married Moses de Jongh, March 18, 1942. All of them lived together in the synagogue.


Their daughter was born March 23, 1943. The whole family was deported to a transitional camp May 25, 1943. A week later, they were transported to the Sobibor concentration camp and all of them were killed around June 4, 1943.


Every time I set foot in this historic place, I’m reminded of the Roepers and their tragedy. I sit in a room right above their living quarters 75 years ago. They had a life, a future, hope. And all of this was taken away by murderers.

They should never be forgotten and that’s why I applied for Stumbling Stones. Every day, we should be reminded that their lives made a difference.


Next door to my office, used to be the Jewish Girls Orphanage. Up to 80 girls were housed  here. And they were deported in 1943. Now, it’s an apartment building.

There’s so much pain in this whole street, the whole quarter. Time doesn’t heal everything, It just teaches us to live with the pain.


What I read:

There’s no Fire Alarm for Artificial General Intelligence. We need to discuss this as a society. I will write about the alarming piece this week.

I loved the idea of WeWork in the beginning but I feel it’s moving society in a wrong direction. The digital hippies want to integrate life and work — but not in a good way.

I went to Slush17 this week and I was mostly impressed by Ovamba, a short-term capital VC in Africa. Made me think how much we don’t know about Africa and we should know.

What I listened to:

Ezra Klein interviewed Rebecca Traister on #MeToo, Anita Hill and many others topics. In general, his podcast is a weekly highlight.

Slow Burn, a new Slate Podcast about Watergate. I gave the first episode a try and have to say that I can’t wait for the rest of the work. I thought I knew quite a bit about Watergate and I was wrong.

Yes, Howard Stern is the best interviewer out there but his interview with Jon Stewart was really special. Raw, real and very introspective. Don’t miss.

Bjork’s Utopia came out this week and it is her best work in more than 10 years.

What I wrote this week:

The Hemingway Law of AI.

The Future of Work in the Age of AI.

Guess what I’m focused on at the moment?




A new report predicts that by 2030, as many as 800 million jobs could be lost worldwide to automation. The study, compiled by the McKinsey Global Institute, says that advances in AI and robotics will have a drastic effect on everyday working lives, comparable to the shift away from agricultural societies during the Industrial Revolution. In the US alone, between 39 and 73 million jobs stand to be automated — making up around a third of the total workforce.

But, the report also states that as in the past, technology will not be a purely destructive force. New jobs will be created; existing roles will be redefined; and workers will have the opportunity to switch careers. The challenge particular to this generation, say the authors, is managing the transition. Income inequality is likely to grow, possibly leading to political instability; and the individuals who need to retrain for new careers won’t be the young, but middle-aged professionals.

As with previous studies on this topic, there’s much to be said for taking a skeptical view. Economic forecasting is not an exact science, and McKinsey’s researchers are keen to stress that their predictions are just that. The figure of 800 million jobs lost worldwide, for example, is only the most extreme of possible scenarios, and the report also suggests a middle estimate of 400 million jobs.

Nevertheless, this study is one of the most comprehensive in recent years, modeling changes in more than 800 occupations, and taking in some 46 countries, accounting for 90 percent of world GDP. Six nations are also analyzed in detail — the US, China, Germany, Japan, India, and Mexico — with these countries representing a range of economic situations and differently organized workforces.

A few highlights:

  • Automation will impact mostly Western countries. As an example, only 9% in India compared to 26% in Japan.
  • Up to 375 million people may need to switch occupational categories with the highest share in advanced economies.
  • If displaced workers are not reemployed quickly, countries will face rising unemployment and depressed wages. Unless retraining efforts are being implemented quickly, wage polarization in advanced countries could continue.
  • Business and policymakers will need to act to keep people working as automation is adopted.
  • Magnitude of potential job dislocation from automation through 2030 is not unprecedented. However, with a lack of innovation in policy and debt-laden countries major political responses are rather unlikely.
  • Technology displaces some work but creates new jobs, sometimes in unforeseen ways.
  • The global trend of aging population will create new and additional labor demand for health care.
  • “Marketization” of unpaid work could create new jobs.

The report closes:

“For society as a whole, machines can take on work that is routine, dangerous, or dirty, and may allow us all to use our intrinsically human talents more fully and enjoy more leisure. Yet even as we bene t, our societies will need to prepare for complex transitions ahead, as machines replace workers in many areas. Our research suggests that it may be time to refocus the current anxious debate about automation toward issues of demand growth, and how to manage the inevitable transitions created by automation. The task at hand is to prepare for a more automated future by emphasizing the skills that will be needed and ensuring dynamic job creation. The technology is advancing rapidly; the policy choices should not tarry.”