Thoughts in Between

by Matt Clifford

TiB 196: 2021 in review - the best articles, tweets and episodes of the year

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2021 through the lens of Thoughts in Between

Thoughts in Between takes its traditional two-week break after today and will return in the New Year. For the last edition of 2021, I've trawled through each issue to pick out the most clicked-on articles, most-clicked on Tweets and most listened-to podcast episodes of the year. Enjoy!

Top articles of 2021

The most popular piece in TiB in 2021 was actually “How did the world get so weird?”, which I wrote for TiB 150, but that’s not really in the spirit of curation… so here are the ten (external) articles that you, discerning readers, clicked on most in 2021, in order of popularity:

(1) On Medici and Thiel (TiB 176) - Krishnan Rohit on why we need to find and scale new ways to fund talented individuals to pursue their ambitions (See also our TiB podcast conversation). A worthy winner.

(2) Kate Bingham on vaccine procurement (TiB 151) - Fascinating interview with the venture capitalist who led the UK's vaccine procurement effort on why it worked and what she learned.

(3) Play dumb, get rich (TiB 189). Five obviously “stupid” investment ideas... that generated exceptional returns in 2021. Great illustration of the internet as a variance amplifying institution.

(4) China, Taiwan and semiconductors (TiB 161) Jon Stokes on why a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, aside from the obvious human tragedy, would be an economic disaster for China and the world. (Spoiler: the global economy relies on a fully functioning TSMC)

(5) Fighting like the Taliban (TiB 178) Tanner Greer's prescient essay, two weeks before the fall of Kabul, on why the Taliban might advance and win much quicker than most people thought at the time.

(6) Gimme the Loot (TiB 182) On NFTs, community-led design and emergent creativity. Loot seems to have fizzled, but I still think this is one of the best pieces to understand why NFTs (see TiB 156) might be exciting.

(7) The Beginning of Tech History (TiB 148) Ben Thompson published this on 12 January and it might still be the best tech essay of the year. What does the next chapter of the internet's history look like?

(8) The State of AI 2021 (TiB 187) Ian Hogarth and Nathan Benaich's annual deep dive into the technology, politics and economics of artificial intelligence was their best one yet.

(9) The New Age of American Power (TiB 182) Adam Tooze on America's big strategic bet: that it can use its technological dominance (and control of the semiconductor supply chain) to maintain geopolitical supremacy even as its share of global GDP declines.

(10) How to learn chess (or anything) as an adult (TiB 190) Alex Crompton explains the tactics and approach that took him from bottom 5% to top 5% globally in chess in nine months.

Top podcast episodes of 2021

The TiB podcast launched in January and has been, if nothing else, a great excuse for me to have conversations with interesting people I admire. The five most popular episodes of the year were:

(1) Gena Gorlin on founders, ambition and psychology. Gena is a practising and academic psychologist, who specialises in working with founders. I had so much positive feedback on this episode, particularly on Gena's dissection of the nature of ambition.

(2) Alice Bentinck on talent, innovation and institution building. My co-founder Alice and I discuss what we've learned at Entrepreneur First through the lens of favourite TiB themes. I think this is probably the best (public) conversation Alice and I have had.

(3) Samo Burja on where great institutions comes from. Samo is founder of Bismarck Analysis and author of Great Founder Theory. His ideas about how to build enduring institutions and why they fail are ambitious, important and worth getting to grips with.

(4) Ethan Mollick on what we actually know about entrepreneurship. I probably link to Ethan more than anyone else in TiB (see below!), because his Twitter feed is endlessly interesting. In this episode, we go deep on what founders and investors can learn from the academic study of entrepreneurship.

(5) Azeem Azhar on the Exponential Age. Azeem's book Exponential is probably the best synthesis of how technology is changing society and the benefits and challenges that creates. We talk through some of the book's big ideas, particularly on the future of work, cities and corporations.

Top tweets of 2021

I link to a lot of tweets in TiB. Here are the ten you clicked on most:

(1) Ethan Mollick on the worst years in history

Some superlative years; 😱The worst year to be alive was 536. 😐The most historically boring (at least on Wikipedia) was 442 - see the chart. 👵The year with the longest life expectancy was 2019.

(2) Alexander Kruel with a superb Q&A thread on counterintuitive facts

Click through for some great suggestions

What's the most counterintuitive fact of all of mathematics, computer science, and physics?

(3) How much do you have to earn to be rich?

Chance to plug my previous finding that the point at which most people consider someone to be “rich” kicks in at about £50,000 a year

(4) Which countries do EU citizens think the EU favours?

“What country the EU favours the most?” Europeans outside Germany 👉 Germany Germans 👉 Greece

(5) Mega-thread on the future of remote work

I've spoken to 2,000+ companies over the last 12 months about their plans for remote work going forward Here are a few things I've learned [ a thread ] 💻🏠🌍

(6) Great Q&A thread on excellent essays

Click through for the answers

What’s the last 10/10 post/essay/article you read?

(7) Mosquitoes are the enemy

It is hard to state how huge a deal this would be. This book estimated that 50% of ALL HUMANS WHO EVER LIVED died because of mosquito-borne illness. Even if it is off by an order of magnitude, the effects of ending malaria would be world-changing.

(8) VCs make decisions from the gut

Venture capital is the final big holdout of instinct-based investing in a finance world that has gone quant. This is from a giant survey of VCs & it shows only around 1 in 10 do any sort of quantitative analysis of past decisions & nearly half often make gut investment decisions

(9) How to learn about the world's Great Problems

Cool MIT class syllabus:

(10) The extraordinary impact of breeding high yielding crops

Effects of Green Revolution 🌱✊ ? Using DiD to look at differential adoption of high-yielding variants 📈🌽 shows: - 10% ↗️ in 📈🌽➡️ 15% ↗️ in GDP & ↘️ fertility & mortality - had 🌱✊ arrived 10 yrs later ➡️ dev world gdp ↘️17% & pop ↗️ 233 mill.

Thank you...

Thoughts in Between is a very small newsletter in the scheme of things, but whatever its readership lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. I'm very grateful to you all for reading - and particularly appreciate everyone who has taken the time to share it, tweet about it, reply with comments or send me ideas and links.

Christmas is coming and if you're behind on your shopping, there's still plenty of time to forward this to a friend: it’s instant, free and long-lasting - the ultimate festive gift...

Until 2022!

Matt Clifford