Good Work—Edition Nº 2

A hand-curated newsletter devoted to exploring how we choose to spend the 90,000 hours that will make up our careers.
Andy Sparks
▪︎ 7 minutes read time

Knowledge-based tools

I drink and I know things.Tyrion Lannister*

Tyrion tests theory with practice as he faces a series of dramatic and complicated challenges each season. His work is cognitive. His work is non-routine. Tyrion is what Peter Drucker and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis would call a knowledge worker.

Try telling your family at Thanksgiving dinner you’re a knowledge worker and you’ll probably get some funny looks. But if you’re in management, law, or a technical profession like software engineering, product design, enterprise sales, or writing, you, like Tyrion, are a knowledge worker.

Below the title of each edition of The Whole Earth Catalog were the words “Access to Tools.” First published in 1968 by Stewart Brand, The Whole Earth Catalog featured high quality or low cost useful tools relevant to independent education that were available by mail. We can order many tools through the mail, but many tools—especially for the knowledge worker—take a different form. For some workers, tools are physical things you order by mail. But for the knowledge worker, knowledge itself becomes a tool. A tool we can acquire by study, practice, or conversation.

Two people having a conversation in the woods are exchanging information, but when they record their exchange in a medium—a book, an article, a podcast, a video—it becomes knowledge. Knowledge is history; knowledge is science; knowledge is that sign telling you to slow down on the curve ahead so you don’t drive off a cliff.

At Holloway, we’re obsessed with the idea of knowledge-based tools. We can learn how to tie a tie, or watch a tutorial of how to use a new piece of technology, but yet so many careers are stunted because not everyone has a wise aunt with all the answers on how to get ahead in one profession or another. On top of that, when so many of those professions are changing at breakneck speeds, someone who was an expert one or five or ten years ago in some field may not be as much help as they might once have been. Even those who are most fortunate to get a degree from a terrific school won’t be able to learn everything they’ll need to navigate the challenges of a modern career.

Knowledge is critical to modern work. Arlan Hamilton, founder of influential VC firm Backstage Capital, credits chasing knowledge as the most important part of her journey:

You have to be on a RELENTLESS pursuit of data and knowledge…What’s my secret sauce? I didn’t raise or earn a dime until well after I’d studied the chess board for years and could answer many of the questions I was asked…So before you seek out a mentor or capital, study. DEVOUR information. Books/Youtube: know the archives. Podcasts/Mags: stay up on current events.*

This week


  • [30 tweets] If you’re like me, or anyone who’s online a lot, you know the challenge of using time wisely and managing distractions. Venkatesh Rao of Ribbon Farm, shared a tweetstorm in October of 2018 on “How to Actually Manage Attention Without Smashing Your Phone and Retreating to a Log Cabin.” This is one of the top five things I read in all of 2018. I found this post so enlightening because on the one hand, I want to go on a digital detox or unplug entirely. On the other hand, I get so much value from Twitter, newsletters, podcasts, and more. This thread gets to the core of why it’s important to consume and contribute knowledge at all levels—from trending tweets to news to magazines to scientific papers to books—how to avoid “empirically ungrounded bullshit,” when to unplug, and more. This is a knowledge-based tool about consuming knowledge-based tools. Read it.


  • audio [2h 41m] In November of 2017, Tim Ferris interviewed Stewart Brand in “The Polymath of Polymaths.” First and foremost, it’s a fun listen. Brand, now eighty, created The Whole Earth Catalog, The Well (one of the earliest online communities), The Long Now Foundation, and he’s responsible for getting NASA to release the first images of Earth (the whole Earth) to the public in the 70’s. Brand is one name on a short list of personal influences, and it makes me sad every time I ask someone, “Do you know of Stewart Brand?,” and they reply with “No.”


This week I came across two pieces, which are infinitely better when read together.

  • [9m] In “Schumpeter on Strategy,” Jerry Neumann shares why some entrepreneurs don’t make more money than if they’d chosen to work for someone else, how some entrepreneurs make a ton of money, and why and how we should be enabling both. In the piece, he shares a chart of the cycle of value creation, capture, and commodification, which is highly relevant to the next piece…
  • [37m] In “The fundamental problem with Silicon Valley’s favorite growth strategy,” Tim O’Reilly takes Silicon Valley and its venture capitalists to task, something that’s happening a lot lately. This isn’t some fluffy thought piece. Tim has the rare ability to see the big picture and the details, and is one of the most thoughtful people I follow. His piece is an earnest and needed critique of the hyper growth business mindset that has flourished in Silicon Valley over the last two decades that I’ll hope you’ll set aside thirty-ish minutes to read. (Yes, it’s long. Go to lunch by yourself this week and read it!)

That’s Good Work for this week. Looking forward to what’s next. See you next week.

Andy and the Holloway Team

Good Work is written and curated by Andy Sparks, Courtney Nash, Dmitriy Kharchenko, Hope Hackett, Joshua Levy, and Rachel Jepsen.

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