Weekend Longreads + Open Thread

Dimon, Instagram, Postwar, Value, Slack, Microsoft

Welcome to the weekly longreads / open thread, a collection of pieces I either highlighted in the daily edition of The Diff or thought would be of interest to readers.

  • Inside the Mind of Jamie Dimon: there are two kinds of celebrity CEOs. The ones who create something from nothing, against the odds (think Musk), and the ones who preserve something and make it grow, also against the odds. The latter kind of CEO falls in and out of favor; Jack Welch used to be a role model, but GE’s performance since he pulled the ripcord has been lackluster. Dimon is another of the preserver-CEOs, and he’s worth reading.

  • No Filter. Business books often tell the story of a company from founding to exit. In this book, Instagram sells to Facebook about a third of the way through, and the rest of the book is about their long struggle to function within a big company that has a distinctive vision of its own.

  • Postwar. I bought this book for two reasons: first, I read some wacky theories about how US balance of payments problems affected the Cold War, and wanted to get a sense of the conventional wisdom. And second, Frederick Forsyth novels are a guilty pleasure of mine (start with Dogs of War, basically a novel about project management) and postwar Europe sounded like an interesting setting. Stay tuned for more thoughts on this book, but the two astonishing things I’ve gotten from it so far are 1) how chaotic and unsettled Europe was in the immediate postwar period—wholesale population transfers happened repeatedly after the war ended—and 2) how quickly Germany started to set the agenda. (History buffs may recall that, technically, Germany lost.)

  • How Value Works. An elegant explanation of how value investing creates option-like payoffs.

  • Slack CEO interview: Slack does one thing, and does it very well. People love to talk about what will happen “when Slack launches X,” where X used to be an office suite and X is now video conferencing. But Slack isn’t done with their core product yet. This piece also contains some useful insights into software economics generally.

  • Inside The Deal That Made Bill Gates $350,000,000” (1986). This story was probably the one that made Bill Gates a metonym for “Very rich guy,” and it’s a good look at the early days of big software and the waning days of the phone/fax/paperwork era in finance.

Open Thread

  • 2020 has been an exciting year so far. Which big trends will, surprisingly, mean-revert?

  • Permabears were bragging in March; permabulls are happy today. Did anyone successfully call both the drop and the rally? How?

  • In the US, lockdowns have been a failure. Not because they didn’t slow the spread, but because the point of lockdowns was to keep the healthcare system from being overwhelmed until we developed a better solution. Testing has scaled up, but there aren’t good protocols for when and how to respond to future outbreaks. The question: which countries/places have produced a good post-lockdown model?

  • And, as always: what are some good long-form pieces you’ve enjoyed in the last week? And what stories this week are mis-covered or under-covered?

And a reminder: I’m raising the price of subscriptions to The Diff at 11:59pm Eastern on June 5th. Anyone who subscribes before then will be grandfathered in at the current pricing: monthly subscribers pay $15/month (25% off the new price) and annual subscribers pay $150/year (32% off the new annual price of $220).

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