Category: Book Summaries
The Book in Three Sentences
- You have to spend time on the things that are most likely to bring you customers
- If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to ’ship’ your product.
- You have to build a business idea in order to test it.
The Five Big Ideas
- “Once you launch, you need to get more people paying you. You have to relentlessly pursue your best method of getting customers and not the stuff you naturally gravitate to.”
- “There is a very big difference between someone entering their email and someone paying you each month for a product.”
- “There’s a huge forgotten void between ‘idea’ and ‘successful business’ that validation doesn’t account for.”
- “If you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to be passionate about growing a business.”
- “Solve problems where people are already paying for solutions.”
The 7 Day Startup Summary
- “You don’t learn until you launch.”
- “Eric Ries defines a startup as ‘a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.’”
- “Anyone can create a job for themselves. But not everyone can change the world.”
- “Things may come to those who wait … but only the things left by those who hustle.” Anonymous
- “Hustle for an early stage startup is generally about spending your time on the things that are most likely to bring you, customers.”
- “Once you launch, you need to get more people paying you. You have to relentlessly pursue your best method of getting customers and not the stuff you naturally gravitate to.”
- “There is a very big difference between someone entering their email and someone paying you each month for a product.”
- “To really test whether you can build a business, you have to start building it.”
- “There’s a huge forgotten void between ‘idea’ and ‘successful business’ that validation doesn’t account for.”
- “If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to launch.”
- “The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.” Neil Gaiman
The 9 Elements of a Bootstrapped Business Idea
- Enjoyable daily tasks
- Product/founder fit
- Scalable business model
- Operates profitably without the founder
- An asset you can sell
- Large market potential
- Tap into pain or pleasure differentiators
- Unique lead generation advantage
- Ability to launch quickly
- “If you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to be passionate about growing a business.”
- “It makes no sense to start a business that is going to have you doing work you don’t enjoy.”
- “Startup founders should have the ambition to grow their business into a larger company. If you don’t have that ambition, what you are creating is not a startup.”
- “Your idea is not a solid startup idea if you don’t have the capacity to make use of a profitable, growing business model.”
- “You need to be able to see a point where you can hire in staff or systems to replace you, and still continue to generate a profit. At that point it becomes a real business.”
- “Focusing on short-term launches or projects won’t build assets. Assets are built over time by ignoring short-term distractions in favor of a bigger, long-term vision.”
- “A list of customers that pay you every month is an asset. If you focus on short-term projects you’ll make more money initially. But if you turn down projects and focus on providing recurring value, you build a valuable asset.”
- “If you work on this idea for five years, what will you have in the end?”
- “What will make you, and your company, unique?”
- “Playing the visionary is a privilege reserved for second- and third-time entrepreneurs. It’s fun, but it’s fraught with danger.”
- “Solve problems where people are already paying for solutions.”
- “Everyone might be saying that your idea is great, but look at whether or not they are currently paying for a solution to the same problem.”
- “A common MVP mistake is over-emphasizing the ‘minimum’ and under-emphasizing the ‘viable.’”
- “The key is to forget about automation and figure out what you can do manually.”
Questions that will help you with your MVP:
- How can you perform a service or offer a product to real customers?
- How will you get them to pay you after seven days?
- How close will your MVP be to the final vision of your product?
- What can you do manually (hint: probably everything)?
- What can you do yourself instead of delegating?
- How can you make your offer as real as possible for the end customer?
A Framework for Choosing an Acceptable Business Name
- Is it taken?
- Is it simple?
- Is it easy to say out loud?
- Do you like it?
- Does it make sense for your idea?
- “Every single one of the top 25 brands in the world are 12 characters or less.”
- “Broader is better.”
10 Ways to Market Your Business
- Create Content on Your Site
- Start Sending Emails
- Forums and Online Groups
- Guest Blogging
- Listing Sites
- Doing Free Work
- Media Coverage
- “Save your excitement until you land people you don’t know as customers.”
- “What are you working on today that will make you indestructible tomorrow?”
- “The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” Eric Ries
- “Any time you feel yourself wondering if what you are doing is good enough, compare it to the best.”
- “By comparing yourself to the best, you set higher expectations for yourself, and you will be better for it.”
- “Always take a step back and ask yourself if it’s feasible that someone else may have solved this problem before.”
- “Momentum is a powerful force, so keep an eye out for what is working and do more of it.”
- “Your own personal happiness and motivation are the most important keys to the success of your business.”
- “You should be more excited about Monday than you are about Friday. If that’s not the case, there’s a good chance things aren’t going to work out.”
- “No amount of money is worth working with a difficult customer.”
7 Days to Startup
Day 1. “Brainstorm a bunch of ideas and evaluate them against the checklist. Choose the idea that stands out as being the best option for you.”
Day 2. “Write down exactly what you will launch on Day 7. What will your customers get, what is included, and what is excluded? If necessary, write down what is automated and what will be done manually in the short term.”
Day 3. “Come up with a bunch of potential business names and evaluate them against the criteria above. Choose whichever one makes the most sense to you and run with it. Grab the best domain you can for that name.”
Day 4. “Build yourself a website!”
Day 5. “Build a list of what marketing methods you are going to choose. Put together a rough plan for the first week or two of your launch.”
Day 6. “Create a spreadsheet that covers the first few months in business, the number of signups, revenue, estimated costs, and monthly growth.”
Day 7. “Launch and start executing your marketing plan.”
Book Summary by Sam Thomas Davies
Accidental Genius introduces you to the concept of freewriting, which you can use to solve complex problems, exercise your creativity, flesh out your ideas and even build a catalog of publishable work.
Lesson 1: Your first freewriting session should follow three rules.
Warren Buffett likes to joke that the secret to a happy marriage is low expectations. I’m not sure about that, but for freewriting it sure sets the right context. The whole point of the exercise is to get ideas flowing, so perfectionism would only get in the way. Before you start a stream-of-consciousness session, relax, remember it’s no pressure and put yourself in a 90% mindset, rather than 110%.
The second key to a successful freewriting session is writing quickly and coherently. Don’t stop. Don’t edit. Never question your statements. Repeat lines if it helps you keep moving. Focus on quantity over quality.
Lastly, and this helps with the second point, set a time limit. Whether it’s an alarm, the wait for your coffee brewer or a washing machine cycle, a fixed start and end point will help you focus and move fast.
So, for a good, first freewriting session:
- Lower your expectations.
- Write fast and fluidly.
- Set a time limit – 5 to 20 minutes will do just fine.
Lesson 2: Lie all you want in your freewriting. It’s an exercise in creativity.
Reality, psh, so yesterday, right? While most of the time the truth serves us well, freewriting might be the one of the few cases where you can and in fact should lie like a trooper. Since it’s an idea practice, abandoning reality for fantasy adds to your creative process. There are two ways you can do this:
- Exaggerate. Turn slouching into running, houses into skyscrapers and mediocre into exhilarating.
- Flip. If it rains it may now be sunny. Slow becomes fast. What was quiet now is loud.
Other exercises you can try are imagining a conversation with a fictitious character or person you know, writing a letter dedicated to a group of people or to your past self. You can even imagine what questions these characters would ask you and then try to answer them.
The whole point of lying in your freewriting is to question the assumptions you hold and see if there are new paths your neurons haven’t explored yet. It’s like the Einstein quote goes:
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” – Albert Einstein
Lesson 3: A freewriting habit might just be what you need to finally start your book.
I really believe everyone of us has at least one book in them. Most people would probably agree. Yet, very few write books. Why is that? Well, writing a book seems – and is – one of the most daunting challenges we can think of. The financial reward potential is terribly low. The work is hard. It takes forever.
Now contrast that with writing for five minutes a day about your favorite topic. How does that sound? Doable, right? Fun, even. But if you do that for a year you’ll easily produce 60-150 pages of material! A regular freewriting practice might be the easiest and fastest way to write a book.
Or let’s say you write every time you do laundry. Three one-hour sessions each week. You’ll easily write 500 pages in a year. If you file and archive those, it’ll be very easy to pick these tidbits back up, edit them, revise them, link various ideas together and voilà, your first book is ready for a professional’s scrutiny before it goes live!
Even if you don’t intend to publish a book, keeping an archive of your freewriting sessions with a good tagging system will quickly add up to an invaluable idea stash.
Pro tip: If you write by hand, you can scan your documents into Evernote and it’ll make the text searchable.
Book Summary by Four Minute Books
The 10X Rule says that:
1. You should set targets for yourself that are 10X greater than what you believe you can achieve
2. You should take actions that are 10X greater than what you believe are necessary to achieve your goals. The biggest mistake most people make in life is not setting goals high enough. Taking massive action is the only way to fulfill your true potential.
Key lessons and important passages from the book.
- The biggest mistake most people make in life is not setting goals high enough.
- The 10X Rule is based on understanding the level of effort and the level of thinking required to succeed.
- Operating at activity levels far beyond the normal is 10X action and execution. It will take you far.
- Set targets that are 10X the goals you would ever dream of.
- Your thoughts and actions are the reason you are where you are right now.
- In order to go farther than you ever thought possible you must both think and act at levels 10X beyond the norm.
- Why keep working once you have achieved a certain financial level of success? Because you can be happy while accomplishing things, not while resting and doing nothing. If you loved your wife and kids yesterday, should you just stop at that? Or should you build upon it? Same way with your work and legacy.
- Limiting the amount of success you desire is a violation of the 10X Rule.
- The 10X Rule: You must set targets for yourself that are 10X more than what you think you want and then take 10X the action you think is required to get there.
- Common mistake 1: setting your sights too low.
- Common mistake 2: underestimating how much action is required.
- Common mistake 3: spending too much time competing and not enough time dominating their sector.
- Common mistake 4: underestimating the amount of adversity they will have to overcome.
- Any goal you set is going to be difficult to achieve, so why not set them higher from the beginning?
- Most people feel like they are working – rather than chasing passion – because the payoff isn’t large enough.
- You will either work to accomplish your goals and dreams or you’ll be used to accomplish someone else’s goals and dreams.
- Never reduce a target. Do not explain away failure. Always increase your actions.
- Nobody wins when you diminish the importance of success.
- People will say, “success isn’t everything.” No shit. Of course success isn’t everything. But it is important. And diminishing that importance with saying like “success isn’t everything” gives you an excuse to limit your vision of success for yourself and the actions you take.
- It is your duty to be successful. Do not view success as an option.
- Being dependent on only one person or one solution for success is your fault. Winners bring in success from many different avenues.
- Politicians make all these promises, but your success (or your children’s success) is not dependent on politics. Whether one person gets voted in or not does not determine if you will win. As long as the system provides the opportunity to succeed, no one individual, politics, or president will dictate your success – except you.
- Success by others is an indication that something is possible. It should inspire you.
- Those who use blame as a reason for not achieving success will never be successful. Victim thinking doesn’t benefit you.
- If you’re willing to take credit when you win then you have to be willing to take responsibility when you lose.
- Even when bad luck or random events strike there is always something you can do to be better prepared next time.
- If you were really legit, people would come to you. Stop driving and flying to everyone. Step up your game.
- If people comment on your level of action, then you’re doing something right.
- The biggest business problem is obscurity.
- Money and power follow attention.
- Rid yourself of average thinking and average action.
- Failing to think big in the beginning will lead to failing to act big.
- Set your goals 10X bigger than you think they should be.
- Top achievers don’t copy or compete. They dominate. They set the pace.
- How can you get an unfair advantage?
- Never play by the agreed upon norms of your industry. Create new ways to dominate your sector.
- You don’t have to be the first to do something, but you should be the best at it.
- Create “only” practices. What is something only you are doing?
- You have to be obsessed. Nobody has ever accomplished something incredible without obsession.
- The ability to be obsessed is not a disease. It is a gift.
- What goal would cause you to be obsessed?
- The saying “under commit and over deliver” is stupid. Instead, over commit and figure out how to show up at a higher level.
- Don’t follow the pack. Lead the pack.
- Interesting trend: when people and businesses cut spending and focus on saving, they almost always save their energy, effort, and creativity as well. It is as if the mindset of dialing down spending naturally dials down activity in other areas.
- Success is like a garden. You must constantly tend to it and care for it.
- Most people never get close to being overexposed. Nearly everyone is hindered by obscurity.
- Last minute preparation is just a way to delay and be fearful. Focus on training better beforehand and when the resistance comes face it and take action.
- Fear is a signal to do what you fear right now. Do not feed fear by waiting and letting it build.
- Don’t worry about time management or balance. Instead, focus on abundance. Don’t think either/or. Instead, think all/everything.
- Time management is more about knowing your priorities clearly than finding balance.
- When the author had his first child, he and his wife created a time schedule for his daughter’s sleep that allowed him to spend an hour with her each morning, maintain the same work calendar. The bonus was the daughter was asleep by 7pm, which meant uninterrupted spouse time.
- Nobody will save you or make you successful.
- Weak and overwhelmed individuals resort to criticism.
- Customer satisfaction is not nearly as big of a problem as “non-customer satisfaction.” People not knowing you exist and not buying your product is the real issue.
- Create an exit survey for non-buyers. (Anyone who leaves sales page?)
- Customer acquisition is the primary objective, not customer satisfaction.
- Customer complaints are not to be avoided. They are problems you can solve.
- Powerful companies and brands are omnipresent. You need to be everywhere.
- The best revenge against your critics is massive success.
- Duplicate the thoughts and actions of successful people and you too will become successful.
- Approach everything with the attitude that it can be done. Believe that you will figure it out.
- Losing money or a business never dominated your ability to take action.
- The author told his whole staff they needed to make 50 sales calls. Then he told them they needed to make the calls in 30 minutes. He went and made 28 calls in 22 minutes. The point is to stop analyzing and paralyzing yourself with overthinking. Just act.
- Challenge traditions and established ways of thinking.
- Don’t worry about how much work it is. Think about how great the results will be.
- Commit first. Figure out the details later.
- Reach up in your relationships. Find people better than you.
- Taking massive actions is the only way to fulfill your true potential.
Key lessons and important passages from the book:
- “My preconceptions about meditation were misconceptions.”
- “In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier.”
- Some of the traits we think are fixed like a quick temper or moody-ness or compassion are learned skills, not fixed characteristics.
- Many people assume they must be paranoid and worry if they want to stay at the top of their game.
- People care a lot about the bio on an author’s page.
- “The best parts of Eckhart Tolle were a form of Buddhism.”
- Most improvements in life make very little difference and that’s fine. We spend so much time searching for transformational change in one easy step, but can we all just admit that were looking for the easy way out here? Just because you can’t change everything at once doesn’t mean you can’t get better. In many cases, most cases in fact, you are only going to see a very small increase from each action. One workout builds a very small amount of muscle. That is what is to be expected. You’re not doing it wrong if you get very tiny results. Most strategies deliver tiny results and require consistent over a long period of time. In the book, Harris makes a comment about therapy only working a little bit: “The limit isn’t your therapist. The limit is therapy itself.” It makes a small difference, but it still makes a difference. The key is to embrace these daily marginal gains rather than dismissing them because they are small.
- Meditation is like doing focused reps for your mind. Focus on the breath, lose your focus, bring it back to the breath, repeat. This is the whole game. Keep bringing your mind back to the breath.
- How to meditate: sit somewhere comfortable, keep a straight spine, focus on a spot, and bring your focus back to your breath whenever you lose it.
- Meditation helps you shut down your monkey mind for a moment.
- We have 3 habitual responses to everything we experience: 1) We want it. 2) We reject it. 3) We zone out. Mindfulness is a fourth response. Viewing what happens in the world without an emotional response about it.
- “Mindfulness represents an alternative to living reactively.”
- Interesting self-sabotage insight: many people worry that if they meditate they will lose their edge and no longer be competitive or driven.
- “When you squelch something you give it power. Ignorance is not bliss.” You should not run from your problems and pain. You should acknowledge them.
- The R.A.I.N. Technique for meditation: Recognize. Allow. Investigate. Non-identification. 1) Recognize: Acknowledge your feelings. 2) Allow: Where you lean into the pain. Let the pain be. 3) Investigate: Check out how the situation is impacting your body. Is my face hot? Is my back tight? Etc. 4) Non-identification: Realize that just because you feel pain or frustration or guilt or anger right now does not mean you are an angry or broken person. It is simply a phase happening at this moment, not your identity as a person.
- Mindfulness seems to be about awareness of the self. You recognize and acknowledge the things going on around you and the emotions you are feeling. Rather than let the emotion drive everything, you step outside of it and see it from afar.
- Being mindful doesn’t change the problems in your life. You still need to take action, but the key is that mindfulness allows you to respond rather than react to the problems in your life.
- Hedonic adaptation: the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.
- A simple question to ask yourself when you’re worrying: “Is this useful?”
- “I do meditation because it makes me 10 percent happier.”
- “Everything we experience in this world goes through one filter — our minds — and we spend very little time bothering to see how it works.”
- Meditation will make you more resilient, but it is not a “cure all” that fixes your problems or relieves all stress in your life.
- One Harvard study shows that gray matter grows in meditators. This is known as neuroplasticity.
- Scientists have developed a term for the consequence of all our multitasking: continuous partial attention.
- The Dalai Lama has a theory on selfishness: We should strive to be wise selfish rather than foolish selfish. Foolish selfish is when you focus on self-centered and shallow activities. Wise selfish is when you show compassion and help others because it benefits you and makes you feel good. Compassion is in our own self-interest.
- Make eye contact and smile at people. This simple habit that will make you feel more connected and much better each day.
- When police officers or first responders are interviewed about how and why they acted in a particular way during an emergency they often say, “My training kicked in.” I like this idea of training yourself to be mindful, aware, compassionate, and so on. These are traits that can be trained and then will automatically reveal themselves when needed (assuming you’ve practiced enough).
- Don’t confuse letting go with going soft. Just because you’re aware of what is going on and being mindful about it does not mean you just let things go when you have the ability to take action on them and improve. The way to respond to adversity is often to work through it, not to avoid it altogether in the name of acting Zen.
- Striving for success is fine as long as you realize that the outcome is not under your control. Be as ambitious as possible, but let go of the result. This makes it easier for you to be resilient and bounce back if the result is poor.
- Buddhism is “advanced common sense.” It requires you to analyze simple fundamentals until a deeper understanding is achieved.
- 10 Buddhist Principles for the Modern Worker: 1) Don’t be a jerk. 2) When necessary, hide the Zen. 3) Meditate. 4) The price of security is insecurity, until it’s not useful. 5) Equanimity is not the enemy of creativity. 6) Don’t force it. 7) Humility prevents humiliation. 8) Go easy with the internal cattle prod. 9) Non-attachment to results. 10) Ask, “What matters most?”
- “Meditation is the super power that makes all the other precepts possible.”
The Medium is the Metaphor
Throughout history, different cities have been the representations of American culture. To Postman, that city is now Las Vegas.
The shape of someone’s body doesn’t matter when they’re sharing ideas in writing, radio, or smoke signals, but it matters greatly in television.
The idea there is “news of the idea” was created by the telegraph, which first made it possible to move decontextualized information over great distances at great speed. But “news of the day” is a figment of our imagination, it exists only because of communication speeds.
Religion saw how giving an image to an idea or set of ideas was problematic, thus the prohibition against it in the ten commandments. The medium matters, it changes the message.
Every new medium of communication changes communication, whether that’s painting or hieroglyphs or the alphabet or television. Each medium creates a new orientation for thought, expression, and sensibility.
This applies beyond communication, the clock created the idea of “moment to moment” by quantifying time into minutes and seconds.
Plato wrote that with the invention of the alphabet, there would be a shift from the ear to the eye as the tool for language processing. And that it would finalize thoughts, make them written in stone, instead of being more fluid as they are in speech.
Media as Epistemology
Postman has no problem with the junk on TV, rather that’s the best part of TV. The problem is when entertainment masquerades as important and informative media.
In oral cultures, parables and proverbs were necessary tools for codifying and remembering ancient wisdom and ideas. They were easily transferrable and laid the foundation for thought itself.
Major new mediums change the structure of discourse. Books demand that you sit still and pay attention for long periods. Television’s demands on you are much different.
Television pollutes public communication and its related discourse, it should only be considered a source of entertainment.
One problem with writing: once it’s put in words and recorded, you feel bound to it, it becomes harder to adjust your ideas later.
Literacy was extremely high in the US colonies, some of the highest in the world.
In the 1830s, “pamphlets” were popular and used to spread ideas and news and gossip, since they were more ephemeral than books, but they also became irrelevant much faster.
The Typographic Mind
In the Lincoln Douglas debates, Douglas talked for 3 hours, the audience breaked for dinner, then Lincoln talked for 3 hours, and Douglas had a 1 hour rebuttal. And people stuck around for that!
It’s hard to say nothing with a written english sentence, but a spoken one says nothing all the time.
In a pre-television word, the name of a famous person would bring ideas to mind. But in post television world, it brings a face to mind. What do you think of when you hear Clinton, Nixon, Elvis, probably first their face.
The Peek-a-Boo World
Pre-telegraph, information could only move as fast as a train, or about 35mph. There was little relation between states, even cities.
But then the telegraph came along and made the country into one neighborhood, but a neighborhood where everyone is still strangers with some superficial facts about each other.
Context-free information: How often does the information that you get in the morning radio, television, or newspaper, make you alter your plans for the day? Or give you anything useful besides something to talk about? When the telegraph came along and made information transmission fast and cheap, it multiplied the information we had available to us, and created a significantly higher noise:signal ratio.
“What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, affirmative action, and the monstrous treatment of the Baha’is in Iran? I shall take the liberty of answering for you: You plan to do nothing about them.”
Burning a book is seen as a vile form of anti-intellectualism, but the telegraph demands that it’s contents be burned, it is not meant to last.
Adding visual context to meaningless information gives it the illusion of relevancy, but the image does nothing to make it valuable. Ilyx example. It’s still trivia for cocktail parties.
“Where people once sought information to manage the real contexts of their lives, now they had to invent contexts in which otherwise useless information might be put to some apparent use.” Crosswords, trivial pursuit, jeopardy, cocktail parties.
Pseudo-context: a structure invented to give fragmented, irrelevant information a seeming use. But its only value ends up being as entertainment.
The Peek-a-Boo World: All of these electronic advances created this world where now this event, now that, pops into existence and vanishes again. A world without coherence or sense, but one which is endlessly entertaining.
Questions about how television shapes our culture have disappeared as television has become our culture. We rarely talk about television, rather what is ontelevision.
The Age of Show Business
The average length of a shot on network television is only 3.5 seconds, so that your eye never rests and always has something new to see.
The problem isn’t that television presents us with entertaining subjects, rather that all subjects are presented as entertaining.
“Now… this” is commonly used to indicate that what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what they’re about to hear or see. It acknowledges that in this speed-up electronic media world, almost everything being reported has no context and no meaning.
What does music have to do with the news? Why is it there? To entertain, to create a mood.
The average length of a news story is only 45 seconds, but it’s not possible to convey the whole depth of an important story in such short a time. It’s meant to entertain, to be trivial.
You can learn about an event, but rarely about the underlying more important details. How many people actually know anything about North Korea, or Islam, or other subjects being reported on beyond the specific events being discussed?
Much of television “informing” us is disinformation. Information that’s misleading, that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing. When the news is packaged as entertainment, it’s the inevitable result. It gets trivialized.
Television is the soma of Brave New World.
Television has even influenced other media. USA Today is modeled on the television style, short stories that are highly visual, put in street receptacles that look like television sets.
Reach Out and Elect Someone
The television quickly became the primary way of presenting political ideas. First, by requiring that it be used in political campaigns. Second, by being forced to package ideas into television commercials in order to get them in front of people.
We no longer learn who is best at being president or governor or other leader, rather, who has the best image via television.
“We Americans seem to know everything about the last twenty-four hours but very little of the last sixty centuries or the last sixty years.”
A student’s freedom to read is not seriously impacted by someone burning a book on Long Island. But television does impair our ability to read, by shortening our attention spans and accomodating us to constant entertainment. Television doesn’t burn books, it displaces them.
Teaching as an Amusing Activity
“Sesame Street” teaches students to love school only if school is like Sesame Street, and in doing so it undermines education. It doesn’t encourage kids to love school or learning, it encourages them to love television.
According to Cicero the goal of education was to free the student from the “tyranny of the present,” give them a greater historical context. But television aims to accomodate us to the present.
A perplexed learner will change to another station. This means that there must be nothing that has to be remembered, studied, applied, or endured.
51% of viewers cannot recall a single item of news a few minutes after viewing a news program on television, and we can only retain 20% of the information in a fictional televised news story. 21% can’t remember any items within one hour of broadcast.
The danger of education as entertainment is that students will learn that learning should be a form of entertainment, and that anything worth learning can take the form of entertainment, and ought to.
The Huxleyan Warning
Only through a deep and unfailing awareness of the structure and effects of information, through demystifying meda, is there any hope of gaining some measure of control over television, the computer, or any other medium.
“For in the end, he was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were all laughing instead of thinking, but that they didn’t know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.”
Book Summary by Nathaniel Eliason
Our basic nature is based on a hunter gatherer style living. Biologically, we’ve spent 99% of our existence as a species in a Hunter Gatherer state, and we have not evolved enough to adapt to not being in one yet. Many of our tendencies can be explained by this history.
We’re drawn to novelty because the unknown is potentially rewarding. We might gain some benefit from exploring it, so we’re drawn to it.
The Pilot’s Checklist to Avoid Fooling Ourselves
- Bias from Mere Association
- Underestimating the power of rewards and punishment
- Underestimating bias from own self interest
- Self serving bias, over optimism
- Self deception and denial, wishful thinking
- Bias from consistency tendency
- Dias from deprival syndrome, endowment effect
- Status quo bias and do-nothing syndrome
- Bias from Envy and Jealousy
- Judging by comparison instead of absolute value
- Bias from anchoring and adjustment
- Recency / availability bias
- Omission or abstract blindness, dogs that don’t bark
- Bias from reciprocation tendency
- Bias from over-influence by liking tendency
- Bias from influence of social proof
- Bias from influence of authority
- Sensemaking, constructing explanations that fit an outcome
- Reason respecting, complying because we’ve been given a reason
- Believing first and doubting later
- Memory limitations, influence by suggestion
- Bias to just do something
- Mental confusion from feeling a need to say something
- Mental confusion from emotional arousal
- Mental confusion from stress
- Mental confusion from physical or psychological pain, influence of state
- Bias from lollapalooza, many tendencies operating together
Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it”
Buffet: Never trust financial projections
Munger: Recognize your limits, how much you don’t know. Don’t try to be the smartest, just the least dumb.
Feynman: “The first principle is that you must no fool yourself, and ou are the easiest person to fool”
We tend to make fast judgments and then doubt ourselves when we start to think the answer might be different, we don’t like being wrong.
Seneca: “There is nothing wrong with changing a plan when the situation has changed.”
If you aren’t sure if you want to do something in the future, ask yourself if you would want to do it tomorrow.
Huxley: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
Buffet: “You don’t have to make it back the way you lost it, in fact, that’s usually a mistake.”
Know your goals and opinions, do you want this for emotional or rational reasons?
The Noah Principle: Predicting rain doesn’t count, building arks does.
People would rather be wrong in a group than be right by themselves.
If everyone is on agreement on a decision, it’s better to postpone until someone can come up with a good argument against it.
You’re neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees, you’re right or wrong based on your data and reasoning.
Experts can be more convincing when we don’t understand them, we assume that means that they’re smarter.
The 7 Sins of Memory
- Our memory weakens and deteriorates over time.
- We are preoccupied with distracting issues and don’t focus on what needs remembering
- We desperately search for information that we know we know
- We assign memory to the wrong sources
- Memories are implanted from leading questions, comments, or suggestsions when retrieving
- Our present knowledge influences how we remember our past
- We recall disturbing events that we would prefer to eliminate from our minds altogether
Man finds nothing so painful as being in complete rest without work, diversion, or effort (Pascal)
What do you want to accomplish? Buffet: “There’s no use running if you’re on the wrong road.”
Socrates: “Awareness of ignorance is the beginning of wisdom.”
When we feel sad, we may want to change our circumstances so that we feel better.
Our cortisol levels rise the more tha other people order us about.
The less we know about an issue, the more we’ll be influenced by how it is framed.
Three Pieces of Advice on Not Being Dumb from Munger
- You can learn to make fewer mistakes and fix them faster, and learn to handle them better. Sometimes you have to quit while holding a much loved hand.
- Two track analysis : What are the factors that govern the interests involved, and what are the subconscious influences where the brain is automatically doing things, what could be causing psychological misjudgments.
- Take all the main models from psychology and use them as a checklist in reviewing outcomes. And you must pay special attention to combinatorial lollapalooza effects.
The Physics and Mathematics of Misjudgements
One way to reduce unintended consequences is to stop focusing on isolated factors and instead consider how our actions affect the whole system.
What key factors influence the outcome of the system and how do those factors interact? What other things may change as a consequence of some action?
Over optimizing one variable could cause the whole system to perform worse.
Avoid acting on symptoms, don’t mistake an effect for its cause.
Look at where the bullet holes are, and put extra armor everywhere else.
Einstein: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
We often pay little or no attention to times when nothing happens.
Russell: “Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales.”
Post mortems are important in any project. What were the original reasons and assumptions? How did it turn out? DId you make errors in judgment?
Guidelines to Better Thinking
Autocatalysis: A process in chemistry whereby once something gets going, it speeds up and keeps going on it’s own. This can’t go on forever, but it’s a useful model for finding ways where doing A can also get you B and C for a while.
More useful models: Backup systems from engineering, Breakpoints, Critical Mass from physics.
Have a full kit of tools, go through them in your mind checklist style, you need to base them on fundamental truths in order to do the soundest reasoning.
You’ll also find functional equivalents between disciplines, the concept of viscocity in chemistry is very similar to stickiness in economics.
Create “one sentence explanations” for big ideas. “We get what we reward for.” “Energy is neither created nor destroyed, only changed from one form to another.”
A simple way to learn more about reality is to look around us and ask “why.”
Feynman test for understanding: “Without using the new word you have just learned, try to rephrase what you have learned in your own language. Without using the word “energy,” tell me what you know about the dog’s motion.”
Using precise numbers is frequently foolish, instead it’s better to work with a range of possible futures.
What counts in investing is not how much they know, but how realistically they can define what they don’t know. An investor needs to do very few things right as long as he or she avoids big mistakes.
Ask the rgight questions: “The formulatoin of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely matter of mathematical or experimental skill.” – Einstein
Avoid what causes the opposite of what you want to acheive, you must always invert.
Would you be willing to see your action on the front page of a newspaper, for everyone you know to see?
Live in the present, don’t be so concerned with the past or future.
Munger on Models: You need the best 100 or so models from microeconomics, physiology, psychology, math, hard science, enegineering, etc. You just need to take the really big ideas and learn them early and well… but you must learn them so that they become part of your ever used repertoire, not just facts that you bang back to a professor.
Book Summary by Nathaniel Eliason
Reasoning from First Principles: A scientist gathers together only what he or she knows to be true— the first principles— and uses those as the puzzle pieces with which to construct a conclusion.
Basic system for planning: where your wants and reality overlap is where your goals come from, then you pick a goal and develop a strategy from it.
Musk works through each of these boxes by reasoning from first principles:
- Filling in the Want box from first principles requires a deep, honest, and independent understanding of yourself.
- Filling in the Reality box requires the clearest possible picture of the actual facts of both the world and your own abilities.
- The Goal Pool should double as a Goal Selection Laboratory that contains tools for intelligently measuring and weighing options.
- And strategies should be formed based on what you know, not on what is typically done.
As Musk tests and gathers data, he continually refines the strategy like a scientist. As you change, and the world changes, you have to keep updating each side of the cycle, as well as make macro adjustments to the whole thing:
Each piece has to be built on and constantly updated purely by reasoning from first principles.
“Your entire life runs on the software in your head— why wouldn’t you obsess over optimizing it?”
School is built around turning us into factory workers, it kills off creativity and expects you to just color in the lines, following the instruction of teachers and parents. Kids who spend longer in school become less creative.
Many people grow up never developing the ability to question why they think things are “the answer.” Common example is career choices. Why do you think that career choice / that major is a good one? Probably because someone like a parent told you it was, based on their own view of the world.
The antiquated view of career selection:
Dogma from parents, society, media, etc. causes us to make decisions based not on first principles, but because other people said so or because that’s “what’s done.” When you grill someone on why they think certain ways, they frequently end up reverting to a form of “because X said so.”
Some people learn to throw out dogma, but then immediately eat up another form of dogma.
“But when you don’t know how to reason, you don’t know how to evolve or adapt. If the dogma you grew up with isn’t working for you, you can reject it, but as a reasoning amateur, going it alone usually ends with you finding another dogma lifeboat to jump onto— another rulebook to follow and another authority to obey. You don’t know how to code your own software, so you install someone else’s.”
Dogma frequently manifests itself into tribes, groups of people with similar dogma. We join them willingly, but as we get deeper into them, we start taking the word of the tribe as law and stop questioning our first principles.
A way to test if you’re in a dogmatic tribe is to propose something strongly contrary to the views of the tribe. Telling your democrat friends that Trump might be a good candidate, for example.
The Cook and the Chef
A chef invents recipes, puts new things together, creates new dishes. A cook follows recipes and does things that have been done before.
“The chef reasons from first principles, and for the chef, the first principles are raw edible ingredients. Those are her puzzle pieces, her building blocks, and she works her way upwards from there, using her experience, her instincts, and her taste buds.”
“But what all of these cooks have in common is their starting point is something that already exists. Even the innovative cook is still making an iteration of a burger, a pizza, and a cake.”
When thrust into a new situation without knowing what to do, you can either create or copy. A chef creates a solution from first principles, a cook copies someone else’s solution. This is where the differences are most apparent, and help us realize how much we do of each. What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
“It’s in those key moments when it’s time to write a new album— those moments of truth in front of a clean canvas, a blank Word doc, an empty playbook, a new sheet of blueprint paper, a fresh whiteboard— that the chef and the cook reveal their true colors. The chef creates while the cook, in some form or another, copies.”
We all think we’re further right than we really are. We want to believe we’re chefs, but most of us are sitting in various degrees of cook-dom.
“In other words, you might be a star and a leader in your world or in the eyes of your part of society, but if the core reason you picked that goal in the first place was because your tribe’s cookbook says that it’s an impressive thing and it makes the other tribe members gawk, you’re not being a leader— you’re being a super-successful follower.”
“But we don’t tend to zoom out, and when we look around at our life, zoomed in, what appears to be a highly unique and independent self may be an optical illusion. What often feels like independent reasoning when zoomed out is actually playing connect-the-dots on a pre-printed set of steps laid out by someone else.”
We frequently mistake a chef’s accurate understanding of risk for courage, not realizing that most of us have a woefully exaggerated belief in things being risky.
We also mistake their originality for ingenuity. Simply by ditching the guidebook in a foreign country, interesting things are bound to happen. When a chef refuses to reason by analogy, the chef opens up the possibility to make a huge splash with each project. It didn’t take a genius to come up with the design of an iphone, it’s pretty simple, it just required that they not copy.
Whatever the time, place, or industry, anytime something really big happens, there’s almost always an experimenting chef at the center of it— not being anything magical, just trusting their brain and working from scratch. Our world, like our cuisines, was created by these people— the rest of us are just along for the ride.
How to Be a Chef
“It’s not in our DNA to be chefs because human self-preservation never depended upon independent thinking— it rode on fitting in with the tribe, on staying in favor with the chief, on following in the footsteps of the elders who knew more about staying alive than we did, and on teaching our children to do the same— which is why we now live in a cook society where cook parents raise their kids by telling them to follow the recipe and stop asking questions about it.”
Epiphany 1: You don’t know shit
“We need to revert to our four-year-old selves and start deconstructing our software by resuming the Why game our parents and teachers shut down decades ago.”
“With each of these questions, the challenge is to keep asking why until you hit the floor— and the floor is what will tell you whether you’re in a church or a lab for that particular part of your life.”
The thing you really want to look closely for is unjustified certainty. Where in life do you feel so right about something that it doesn’t qualify as a hypothesis or even a theory, but it feels like a proof?
Epiphany 2: No one else knows shit either
“This doesn’t seem right to me but everyone else says it’s right so it must be right and I’ll just pretend I also think it’s right so no one realizes I’m stupid”
“This is a battle of two kinds of confidence— confidence in others vs. confidence in ourselves. For most cooks, confidence in others usually comes out the winner. To swing the balance, we need to figure out how to lose respect for the general public, your tribe’s dogma, and society’s conventional wisdom.”
It’s hard— you have to take the leap to chefdom separately in each part of your life— but it seems like with each successive cook → chef breakthrough, future breakthroughs become easier to come by. Eventually, you must hit a tipping point and trusting your own software becomes your way of life— and as Jobs says, you’ll never be the same again.
Epiphany 3: You’re playing grand theft life
There are 4 kinds of people in the cook-chef dynamic:
- Proud cook: full dogma kool-aid drinking follower
- Insecure cook: Proud cook + epiphany 1, slightly more aware that they don’t know anything, but they still think other people know what they’re doing and talking about
- Self-Loathing cook: Insecure cook + epiphany 2, they know nobody knows what they’re doing, but they still play along and hate themselves for it.
- The chef: The self-loathing cook without the fear of speaking up
“But to me, Self-Loathing Cook is the most curious one of the four. Self-Loathing Cook gets it. He knows what the chefs know. He’s tantalizingly close to carving out his own chef path in the world, and he knows that if he just goes for it, good things would happen. But he can’t pull the trigger. He built himself a pair of wings he feels confident work just fine, but he can’t bring himself to jump off the cliff.”
There are two misconceptions that prevent the self-loathing cook from breaking into chefdom:
Misconception 1: Misplaced fear
We’re more afraid of public speaking than texting on the highway, more afraid of approaching an attractive stranger in a bar than marrying the wrong person, more afraid of not being able to afford the same lifestyle as our friends than spending 50 years in a meaningless career— all because embarrassment, rejection, and not fitting in really sucked for hunters and gatherers.
When we see chefs displaying what looks like incredible courage, they’re usually just in the Chef Lab. The Chef Lab is where all the action is and where the path to many people’s dreams lies— dreams about their career, about love, about adventure. But even though its doors are always open, most people never set foot in it for the same reason so many Americans never visit some of the world’s most interesting countries— because of an incorrect assumption that it’s a dangerous place.
Misconception 2: Misplaced Identity
The challenge with this last epiphany is to somehow figure out a way to lose respect for your own fear. That respect is in our wiring, and the only way to weaken it is by defying it and seeing, when nothing bad ends up happening, that most of the fear you’ve been feeling has just been a smoke and mirrors act.
If someone gave you a perfect simulation of today’s world to play in and told you that it’s all fake with no actual consequences— with the only rules being that you can’t break the law or harm anyone, and you still have to make sure to support your and your family’s basic needs— what would you do? My guess is that most people would do all kinds of things they’d love to do in their real life but wouldn’t dare to try, and that by behaving that way, they’d end up quickly getting a life going in the simulation that’s both far more successful and much truer to themselves than the real life they’re currently living.
To be a chef: So if we want to think like a scientist more often in life, those are the three key objectives— to be humbler about what we know, more confident about what’s possible, and less afraid of things that don’t matter.
Book Summary by Nathaniel Eliason
Perfect pitch can be trained if you get the kids early enough. By exposing them to tones and challenging them to match them before age 4, they can develop perfect pitch for the rest of their life. Even adults can learn some of this, though there is some brain plasticity at that young age that makes it easier.
The central message: The right sort of practice carried out over a sufficient period of time leads to improvement. Nothing else. There is no such thing as natural talent or prodigies. Anders spends most of the book explaining what “the right sort of practice” is, as well as why talent doesn’t exist. But it comes back to this central message, that anyone can improve, and that it takes time. The only shortcut is practicing the right way. If you don’t buy the “no talent” thing, please buy the book, he has a whole chapter on it.
A common learning obstacle: If you reach a skill level that feels “satisfactory” to you, you stop improving, and even get worse with time. Just playing tennis for fun with your friends won’t get you much better, since you’re not pushing yourself. The more “automated” your performance has become, the less you’re learning.
Two types of practice: naive practice and purposeful practice:
- Naive practice in a nutshell: I just played it. I just swung the bat and tried to hit the ball. I just listened to the numbers and tried to remember them. I just read the math problems and tried to solve them. This is how most people “practice” but it’s ineffective.
- Purposeful practice has well-defined, specific goals. Without such a goal, there is no way to judge whether the practice session has been a success.
Components of purposeful practice:
- Putting a bunch of baby steps together to hit a long term goal, having a plan
- Feedback, you have to know whether you are doing something right and if not, what mistakes you’re making
- Getting outside of your comfort zone, feeling uncomfortable. If you never push beyond your comfort zone you’ll never improve.
- A way to monitor your progress
- Maintaining motivation
Other rules of purposeful practice:
- You won’t improve much without giving the task your full attention (see Deep Work)
- Without feedback— either from yourself or from outside observers— you cannot figure out what you need to improve on or how close you are to achieving your goals.
The best way to get past any barrier is to come at it from another angle, which is where coaches can help. Think about dropping weight or changing exercises to get through weight lifting plateaus.
- Slowing down the speed to get further remembering cards
- Speeding up to see how far you can get, allowing mistakes
- Other ways to change it up to try to fill in the gaps of knowledge, or provide motivation
Keep changing things to keep learning. Go faster, farther, over new terrain, if you do the same run every day then you’re not improving.
We only learn until we feel like we’ve hit a “good enough” point. As soon as we feel like we’re good enough (subconsciously or consciously) we stop improving, even with continued repetition.
Your skill in anything is based on the number and quality of “mental representations” you have for the skill. For example, chess players improve most by studying and challenging themselves with expert matches. They build mental representations of others’ games, which help them improve much more than simply playing more games.
“The main thing that sets experts apart from the rest of us is that their years of practice have changed the neural circuitry in their brains to produce highly specialized mental representations, which in turn make possible the incredible memory, pattern recognition, problem solving, and other sorts of advanced abilities needed to excel in their particular specialties.”
The main purpose of deliberate practice is to develop effective mental representations, and, as we will discuss shortly, mental representations in turn play a key role in deliberate practice.
… to write well, develop a mental representation ahead of time to guide your efforts, then monitor and evaluate your efforts and be ready to modify that representation as necessary.
The Gold Standard: Deliberate Practice
Deliberate practice is even better than purposeful practice.
Principles of Deliberate Practice:
- The field must be well developed, the best performers must be clearly far superior to people just entering the field. If there’s no competition to indicate skill, then it’s hard for there to be deliberate practice because the differences of the best are less clear.
- Deliberate practice requires a teacher who can provide practice activities designed to help a student improve his or her performance.
- Near maximal effort, constantly being taken out of your comfort zone by a teacher or coach. Not “fun”
- Well defined, specific goals, not aimed at “overall improvement.”
- Full attention and conscious action, no autopilot.
- Feedback and constant little improvements, modifying efforts in response to feedback
- Building and modifying mental representations
- Focusing on building and improving specific skills by focusing on aspects of those skills and improving them
This is the basic blueprint for getting better in any pursuit: get as close to deliberate practice as you can. If you’re in a field where deliberate practice is an option, you should take that option. If not, apply the principles of deliberate practice as much as possible.
Deliberate practice for fields without deliberate training options:
- Identify the expert performers
- Figure out what they do that makes them so good. Figure out what they do that’s different, and the training methods that helped them get there. (See 4-Hour Chef, Interviewing)
- Come up with training techniques that allow you to do it, too.
The 10,000 hour rule misses a lot. Performing is not deliberate practice, and doesn’t help you get much better. The # of hours you need to put in is relative to the other people you’re competing with, in a new field you can become a “master” in 20 hours. For chess it might be more like 40,000.
Deliberate Practice on the Job
Two myths of performance improvement:
- Our abilities are limited by pre-determined genetic characteristics
- If you do something for long enough you’re bound to get better at it
- All it takes to improve is effort
Skill is more useful than knowledge, it’s what you’re able to do, not what you know, that sets you apart.
School is, unfortunately, based around knowledge. This is why it’s usually useless. It is much easier to present knowledge to a large group of people than it is to set up conditions under which individuals can develop skills through practice.
We should focus on how do we teach the relevant skill, instead of how do we present the relevant knowledge.
Deliberate Practice in Daily Life
For anyone who wants to improve at anything, here is a basic framework.
Find a good teacher
Private instruction is ideal, since they can best point out what you specifically need to improve and work on.
Know when you can’t gain anything else from them, though, and move on (see Mastery).
Engagement (Deep Work)
If your mind is wandering or you’re relaxed and having fun, you probably aren’t improving.
Whatever you’re doing, focus on it. Don’t engage in mindless repetition.
What if you don’t have a teacher?
Ben Franklin method for improving writing
- Find a writer you respect
- Break their writing up into the pieces you want to improve. If you want to improve sentence structure, then write down the ideas of the sentences and save them for later. Once you’ve forgotten the exact wording, try to recreate the sentences on your own from the ideas, and then compare your creations with the originals to see what makes theirs better.
- Identify the pieces that are making yours less strong, then create exercises to improve those elements. So Franklin realized his vocabulary wasn’t as strong as it could be in the moment, so he did poetry to become more creative with his word choices.
- Did the same thing with order, taking pieces and putting them on note cards, then jumbling them up and trying to put them back in order and comparing.
You need to find a way to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Use repetition to figure out where your weaknesses are and focus on getting better in those areas, trying different methods to improve until you find something that works.
To effectively practice a skill without a teacher, it helps to keep in mind three Fs: Focus. Feedback. Fix it. Break the skill down into components that you can do repeatedly and analyze effectively, determine your weaknesses, and figure out ways to address them.
Getting past plateaus
The best way to move past any plateau is to challenge your brain and body in a new way. Figure out the components of the skill that are holding you back, and find a way to push yourself more on those specific elements. Design a practice technique focused on improving that specific weakness.
To keep working on something, you need to keep the reasons to continue high, and the reasons to quit low.
To increase focus and decrease demotivation, limit practice sessions to 1 hour. If you want to practice more, take a break in between sessions.
Create a group working on the same thing so you can all motivate each other to keep improving.
Book Summary by Nathaniel Eliason
It is man’s duty to live in conformity with the divine will, and this means, firstly, bringing his life into line with ‘nature’s laws’, and secondly, resigning himself completely and uncomplainingly to whatever fate may send him.
In this way we shall arrive at the true end of man, happiness, through having attained the one and only good thing in life, the ideal or goal called arete in Greek and in Latin virtus – for which the English word ‘virtue’ is so unsatisfactory a translation. This, the summum bonum or ‘supreme ideal’, is usually summarized in ancient philosophy as a combination of four qualities: wisdom (or moral insight), courage, self-control and justice (or upright dealing).
Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.
To be everywhere is to be nowhere. People who spend their whole life travelling abroad end up having plenty of places where they can find hospitality but no real friendships.
The same must needs be the case with people who never set about acquiring an intimate acquaintanceship with any one great writer, but skip from one to another, paying flying visits to them all.
a plant which is frequently moved never grows strong.
So always read well-tried authors, and if at any moment you find yourself wanting a change from a particular author, go back to ones you have read before.
Each day, too, acquire something which will help you to face poverty, or death, and other ills as well.
It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more
You ask what is the proper limit to a person’s wealth? First, having what is essential, and second, having what is enough.
But if you are looking on anyone as a friend when you do not trust him as you trust yourself, you are making a grave mistake, and have failed to grasp sufficiently the full force of true friendship.
Regard him as loyal, and you will make him loyal. Some men’s fear of being deceived has taught people to deceive them; by their suspiciousness they give them the right to do the wrong thing by them.
For a delight in bustling about is not industry – it is only the restless energy of a hunted mind. And the state of mind that looks on all activity as tiresome is not true repose, but a spineless inertia.
Ask nature: she will tell you that she made both day and night.
I VIEW with pleasure and approval the way you keep on at your studies and sacrifice everything to your single-minded efforts to make yourself every day a better man.
Avoid shabby attire, long hair, an unkempt beard, an outspoken dislike of silverware, sleeping on the ground and all other misguided means to self-advertisement.
Let our aim be a way of life not diametrically opposed to, but better than that of the mob.
Anyone entering our homes should admire us rather than our furnishings.
Limiting one’s desires actually helps to cure one of fear. ‘Cease to hope,’ he says, ‘and you will cease to fear.’
Fear keeps pace with hope. Nor does their so moving together surprise me; both belong to a mind in suspense, to a mind in a state of anxiety through looking into the future. Both are mainly due to projecting our thoughts far ahead of us instead of adapting ourselves to the present.
There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with.
But nothing is as ruinous to the character as sitting away one’s time at a show – for it is then, through the medium of entertainment, that vices creep into one with more than usual ease.
But the right thing is to shun both courses: you should neither become like the bad because they are many, nor be an enemy of the many because they are unlike you.
Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.
‘To me,’ says Democritus, ‘a single man is a crowd, and a crowd is a single man.’
The many speak highly of you, but have you really any grounds for satisfaction with yourself if you are the kind of person the many understand? Your merits should not be outward facing.
indulge the body just so far as suffices for good health.
what you have to understand is that thatch makes a person just as good a roof as gold does.
What fortune has made yours is not your own.
But while he does not hanker after what he has lost, he does prefer not to lose them.
‘Any man,’ he says, ‘who does not think that what he has is more than ample, is an unhappy man, even if he is the master of the whole world.’
‘We need to set our affections on some good man and keep him constantly before our eyes, so that we may live as if he were watching us and do everything as if he saw what we were doing.’
Happy the man who improves other people not merely when he is in their presence but even when he is in their thoughts!
Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves.
We have good reason to say: ‘I trust this finds you in pursuit of wisdom.’
So continually remind yourself, Lucilius, of the many things you have achieved. When you look at all the people out in front of you, think of all the ones behind you.
Why be concerned about others, come to that, when you’ve outdone your own self?
IT is clear to you, I know, Lucilius, that no one can lead a happy life, or even one that is bearable, without the pursuit of wisdom, and that the perfection of wisdom is what makes the happy life,
It moulds and builds the personality, orders one’s life, regulates one’s conduct, shows one what one should do and what one should leave undone, sits at the helm, and keeps one on the correct course as one is tossed about in perilous seas.
‘If you shape your life according to nature, you will never be poor; if according to people’s opinions, you will never be rich.’
Remaining dry and sober takes a good deal more strength of will when everyone about one is puking drunk; it takes a more developed sense of fitness, on the other hand, not to make of oneself a person apart, to be neither indistinguishable from those about one nor conspicuous by one’s difference, to do the same things but not in quite the same manner. For a holiday can be celebrated without extravagant festivity.
set aside now and then a number of days during which you will be content with the plainest of food, and very little of it, and with rough, coarse clothing, and will ask yourself, ‘Is this what one used to dread?’
So, my dear Lucilius, start following these men’s practice and appoint certain days on which to give up everything and make yourself at home with next to nothing. Start cultivating a relationship with poverty.
A good character is the only guarantee of everlasting, carefree happiness.
But something that can never be learnt too thoroughly can never be said too often. With some people you only need to point to a remedy; others need to have it rammed into them.
‘How can you wonder your travels do you no good, when you carry yourself around with you? You are saddled with the very thing that drove you away.’
‘I wasn’t born for one particular corner: the whole world’s my home country.’
‘A consciousness of wrongdoing is the first step to salvation.’
This is why I look on people like this as a spiritless lot – the people who are forever acting as interpreters and never as creators, always lurking in someone else’s shadow. They never venture to do for themselves the things they have spent such a long time learning.
a philosopher, whose delivery – like his life – should be well-ordered; nothing can be well-regulated if it is done in a breakneck hurry.
Nonetheless what is waited for does sink in more readily than what goes flying past;
Besides, how can a thing possibly govern others when it cannot be governed itself?
The upshot, then, of what I have to say is this: I am telling you to be a slow-speaking person.
In each and every good man A god (what god we are uncertain) dwells.
No one should feel pride in anything that is not his own.
Man’s ideal state is realized when he has fulfilled the purpose for which he was born. And what is it that reason demands of him? Something very easy – that he live in accordance with his own nature.
No one can lead a happy life if he thinks only of himself and turns everything to his own purposes.
With afflictions of the spirit, though, the opposite is the case: the worse a person is, the less he feels it.
Voices, I think, are more inclined to distract one than general noise; noise merely fills one’s ears, battering away at them while voices actually catch one’s attention.
The fact that the body is lying down is no reason for supposing that the mind is at peace. Rest is sometimes far from restful.
There’s no difference between the one and the other – you didn’t exist and you won’t exist – you’ve no concern with either period.
Comforting thoughts (provided they are not of a discreditable kind) contribute to a person’s cure; anything which raises his spirits benefits him physically as well.
My own advice to you – and not only in the present illness but in your whole life as well – is this: refuse to let the thought of death bother you: nothing is grim when we have escaped that fear.
Nobody can be in acute pain and feel it for long. Nature in her unlimited kindness to us has so arranged things as to make pain either bearable or brief.
A man is as unhappy as he has convinced himself he is.
‘I’m suffering severe pain,’ you may say. Well does it stop you suffering it if you endure it in a womanish fashion?
An illness that’s swift and short will have one of two results: either oneself or it will be snuffed out. And what difference does it make whether I or it disappears? Either way there’s an end to the pain.
For a life spent viewing all the variety, the majesty, the sublimity in things around us can never succumb to ennui: the feeling that one is tired of being, of existing, is usually the result of an idle and inactive leisure.
And we should, indeed, live as if we were in public view, and think, too, as if someone could peer into the inmost recesses of our hearts – which someone can!
Tell them of all the things men do that they would blush at sober, and that drunkenness is nothing but a state of self-induced insanity.
Well, I have no respect for any study whatsoever if its end is the making of money.
What’s the use of overcoming opponent after opponent in the wrestling or boxing rings if you can be overcome by your temper?
It is incredible, Lucilius, how easily even great men can be carried away from the truth by the sheer pleasure of holding forth on a subject.
The story is told that someone complained to Socrates that travelling abroad had never done him any good and received the reply: ‘What else can you expect, seeing that you always take yourself along with you when you go abroad?’ What a blessing it would be for some people if they could only lose themselves!
Travelling doesn’t make a man a doctor or a public speaker: there isn’t a single art which is acquired merely by being in one place rather wan another.
It’s not because they’re hard that we lose confidence; they’re hard because we lack the confidence.
But first we have to reject the life of pleasures; they make us soft and womanish; they are insistent in their demands, and what is more, require us to make insistent demands on fortune.
Every person without exception has someone to whom he confides everything that is confided to himself.
Here is your noble spirit – the one which has put itself in the hands of fate; on the other side we have the puny degenerate spirit which struggles, and which sees nothing right in the way the universe is ordered, and would rather reform the gods than reform itself.
A person going out into the sun, whether or not this is what he is going out for, will acquire a tan.
People prone to every fault they denounce are walking advertisements of the uselessness of their training.
More active and commendable still is the person who is waiting for the daylight and intercepts the first rays of the sun; shame on him who lies in bed dozing when the sun is high in the sky, whose waking hours commence in the middle of the day – and even this time, for a lot of people, is the equivalent of the small hours.
Can you imagine that these people know how one ought to live when they do not know when one ought to live?
We are attracted by wealth, pleasures, good looks, political advancement and various other welcoming and enticing prospects: we are repelled by exertion, death, pain, disgrace and limited means. It follows that we need to train ourselves not to crave for the former and not to be afraid of the latter.
Philosophy has no business to supply vice with excuses; a sick man who is encouraged to live in a reckless manner by his doctor has not a hope of getting well.
Book Summary by Nathaniel Eliason
The central theme of the book is “antifragility,” which Taleb defines in the Prologue:
“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
Another way to formulate it is: anything that has more upside than downside from random events shocks. An egg will not benefit from having a 5lb weight put on it, but your body can become stronger through similar stresses.
This builds on the arguments in Black Swan. When there’s a Black Swan event, the Antifragile can thrive. But the fragile will frequently perish. Put another way, the Antifragile can benefit from positive black swans.
“Fragility implies more to lose than to gain, equals more downside than upside, equals unfavorable asymmetry.”
“Antifragility implies more to gain than to lose, equals more upside than downside, equals favorable asymmetry.”
Damocles, Phoenix, Hydra
Taleb uses ancient examples to explain the triad of Fragile, Robust, and Antifragile. Damocles, who dines with a sword dangling over his head, is fragile. A small stress to the string holding the sword will kill him.
The Phoenix, which dies and is reborn from its ashes, is robust. It always returns to the same state when suffering a massive stressor.
But the Hydra demonstrates Antifragility. When one head is cut off, two grow back.
Nature is a recurring demonstration of antifragility. When you lift weights, your body adapts to lift heavier weights next time. But for human systems, we tend to fight the last war, building a nuclear power plant that can withstand the worst earthquake that we’ve seen .
The Streisand Effect & Criticism
This is also demonstrated in “The Streisand Effect,” where the desire to kill an idea can directly lead to its proliferation. Banned books are a good example, or the popularity of Ayn Rand despite her aggressive detractors. Or try to not think of a white elephant and see what happens.
Fragile & Antifragile Jobs
Taleb also shows the dichotomy between certain lines of work and their fragility. As an author, for example, nothing he can do that generates attention will reduce the sale of his books.
However, if you’re a midlevel executive employee at some bank, if you punch out an annoying drunk in a bar you will likely get fired, get an arrest record, and be unhirable. You’re extremely fragile.
And then again at the lower end of the spectrum, say as a taxi driver, you have more freedom again because you are not so dependent on your reputation.
He also provides a heuristic: People who don’t seem to care how they dress or look are robust or antifragile. People who have to wear suits and ties and worry about a bad reputation are fragile.
Sometimes we understand something in one area, but fail to carry over the underlying logic into another domain. Many statisticians understand statistics, but still get tripped up by simple thought experiments. People will take an elevator to the gym to use the stairmaster.
While we understand the benefits of stress in medicine and health, we fail to carry it over to other parts of life. Small stresses on your income can be good for keeping you from accumulating silent risk or becoming cocky. Small fights in your relationship can help it become stronger, and avoid big fights.
The Procrustean Bed
Taleb uses the “Procrustean Bed” story to demonstrate how we create harm by reducing variations. Procrustes would capture travelers and put them in his bed, stretching them on a rack if they were too short for it or chopping off their extremities if they were too tall. When we destroy variations to fit a model, we do similar harm.
The Turkey Problem
A bigger theme in The Black Swan, but “the turkey problem” is how you can imagine a turkey raised and fed from birth, becoming more sure every day that it will continue to be well fed and taken care of, based on its past evidence, right up until Thanksgiving.
A donkey equally hungry and thirsty stuck between a bale of hay and water will die of starvation and thirst, unable to make a decision between the two. However, a random nudge in one direction will solve the problem for him. Randomness can help with decision making and becoming unstuck, but when we try to reduce it, we lose that beneficial stressor.
Taleb invokes stoic principles on multiple occasions as ways of handling randomness and becoming more antifragile.
For example, success can make you fragile, because you now have much more to lose than you did before. You’re afraid of becoming poor. The stoic technique of “practicing poverty” helps reduce your fragility from being afraid of losing your wealth.
Hormesis, Small Stressors & Inverse Hormesis
Hormesis is another example of Antifragility. By taking small doses of a poison, you can develop more immunity to it, just as vaccinations use a small dose of a disease to train your body to resist its stronger form.
We see similar antifragile benefits from fasting, weight lifting, running. And we also see that depriving systems of these beneficial stressors is harmful, as is evidenced by any person who has never been hungry or never exercised.
Aging, Taleb argues, is hastened by a lack of stress. We are living longer but people are more sick. All of our comfort has been detrimental to our healthspans. We thought aging causes bone degradation, but it seems that bone degradation causes aging.
This can also be applied to competition. The best horses lose when they compete with slower ones, and win against stronger rivals. Absence of challenge can degrade the best of us.
Another example: static background noise makes it easier to pick up radio signals. Writing in cafés with background conversations helps you focus. We want a little stress, but not too much.
Taleb also points out how many people are being put on antidepressants, and how mood swings are a natural part of the human condition. If someone is truly suicidal, sure, but the ability to wrestle with our dark side is part of life and great inspiration for creatives.
He also points out how real language learning is done “in the wild,” suffering embarrassment for not knowing things and struggling to be understood. It is not done through textbooks and tests, as is evident by any child learning their first language(s).
Problems with Modernity
Taleb points out numerous problems with modern life, mostly arising from removing the natural stressors that help us.
Lions in the Zoo
Consider the life of a lion in a zoo and in the wild. The lion in the zoo might live longer, but is that really a desirable existence? Taleb points out that we used to have “free range humans,” before such things as suits and soccer moms and gym machines.
Naive Intervention & Iatrogenics
There’s a mistaken desire to intervene, particularly from doctors, that can lead to “iatrogenics,” which means “harm caused by the healer.”
Harm from doctors accounts for more deaths than any single cancer.
There are two forms: the obvious iatrogenics, such as amputating the wrong leg, and the non-obvious iatrogenics, such as carelessly prescribing antidepressants and ADHD medication.
The Agency Problem
Part of the issue comes from the agency problem where the agent (doctor) has different interests from the receiver of his services (the patient).
Taleb shares a story of his article being aggressively edited for writing style by the Washington Post, so he pulled it and gave it to The Financial Times, who only made one edit, to correct a date. He points out that WaPo, in trying to over-edit, missed the only important error.
Taleb points out that procrastination is not always bad, it is something deep within us that is able to identify the urgency of a problem. We don’t procrastinate when a lion is attacking, but procrastinating responding to an email is probably fine.
Related, the cure to procrastination on the job is not to force yourself to create systems that fix it, rather, to find an occupation where you do not have to fight your impulses and where you do not procrastinate.
The Barbell & the Bimodal Strategy
The barbell demonstrates an “antifragile balance,” the idea of two extremes kept separate, with avoidance in the middle.
This represents playing it very safe in some areas (staying robust to negative black swans), and taking a lot of small risks in other areas (open to positive black swans), to take advantage of antifragility. While avoiding being “in the middle.”
If you put 90% of your net worth in cash or T bills, and you use the other 10% for extremely aggressive and risky investments, you can never lose more than 10% of your net worth, but you’re exposed to massive upside.
Or, you can take a very safe day job while you work on your literature. You balance the extreme randomness and riskiness of a writing career with a safe job.
Or, you do a serial barbell, where you have pure action then pure reflection (Seneca, Montaigne).
More examples: “Do crazy things (break furniture once in a while), like the Greeks during the later stages of a drinking symposium, and stay “rational” in larger decisions. Trashy gossip magazines and classics or sophisticated works; never middlebrow stuff. Talk to either undergraduate students, cab drivers, and gardeners or the highest caliber scholars; never to middling-but-career-conscious academics. If you dislike someone, leave him alone or eliminate him; don’t attack him verbally.”
Taleb discusses optionality, freedom of choice, as a means of robustness and antifragility. Simply, the more options you have, the more freedom you have to respond to unforseen circumstances, and the less fragile you are to sudden events. Financial independence is a big form of it, but there are others.
Certain fields do not have negative forms, there’s no opposite of someone buying your book, so authors have more options because they have less downside.
Taleb is a big proponent of trial and error, which he calls tinkering, as a way to figure things out and expose yourself to large potential upsides.
Many great inventions were toys, first. The steam engine was invented by the greeks for amusement, and it took a long time for us to realize it had practical applications.
The Teleological Fallacy
The error that you know where you are going, and that you knew exactly where you were going in the past, and that others have succeeded in the past by knowing where they were going.
One form of this is “teaching birds how to fly,” where Taleb points out that a Harvard ornithological department could explain the mathematics of flight and how birds wings work, but the birds do not need to understand that in order to fly.
Taleb also argues against the “master pupil” relationships, arguing that those relationships developed because the people were like minded, not that they became like minded because of the relationship. A personal note on this: I’ve come to believe more and more that the right book and idea is not about completely teaching you something new, rather, helping you fully articulate something you have already begun to think about.
The Green Lumber Fallacy
Taleb tells the story of someone who traded green lumber and made a considerable profit from it, while thinking that green lumber was literally logs painted green, not knowing it was fresh wood. But not knowing this fact did not affect his ability to trade it effectively. So when we assume some information is necessary and important when it really isn’t, we’re committing the green lumber fallacy.
As another formulation, you do not need to understand aerodynamics or physics to ride a bicycle.
Some Rules for Optionality
- Look for optionality and rank things according to their optionality
- Look for things with open ended, not closed ended, payoffs
- Do not invest in business plans but in people, people who could change careers six or seven times
- Make sure you are barbelled, whatever that means in your business
“For the fragile, the cumulative effect of small shocks is smaller than the single effect of an equivalent single large shock.”
“For the antifragile, shocks bring more benefits (or less harm) as their intensity increases, up to a point.” Ex: lifting a 100lb weight once is more beneficial than lifting a 1lb weight 100 times.
Your flight never gets in 4 hours early, but you can certainly arrive 4 hours late. Anything unexpected, any shocks, is much more likely to extend the total flying time, ergo flight schedules are fragile.
Another example: Don’t cross a river if it is “on average 4 feet deep.”
Via Negativa (by removal)
Taleb argues that the solution to many problems in life is by removing things, not adding things.
If you have more than one reason to do something, don’t do it. By invoking more than one reason to do something, you are trying to convince yourself to do it. Obvious decisions (robust to errors) require no more than one good reason.
The Lindy Effect
For the perishable (food, humans), every additional day in its life means it is closer to dying. For the nonperishable (books, ideas), every additional day of its life can imply a longer life expectancy. If a book has been in print for 100 years, it will likely continue to be read for another 100. But a person who has been alive for 100 years…
There is a class of things, typically technology, where we’re obsessed by having the newest version of it. But for classical art, literature, works that have endured, older tends to be better. You likely replace your phone every 2 years, but not the painting on your wall.
There’s no good evidence for the benefits of reducing swelling, but we automatically do it as part of the reflex to do something .
There are also cases where we get some small immediate benefits, and ignore the unknown larger side effects down the line. This would include drugs like Thalidomide, and nutritional interventions like Trans Fat. When we find something that seems to have a “free lunch,” like steroids or trans fat, something that helps the healthy withut a clear downside, it is likely there will be a concealed trap somewhere. It’s a “sucker’s bet.”
Some more real and potential examples: Vioxx, and anti-inflammatory medicine that ends up causing heart issues; Bariatric surgery for overweight people (in place of dieting); Anti-depressants in non-suicidal cases; Cortisone; Disinfectants and other cleaning products; Hormone replacement therapy; Hysterectomies; Cesarean births when the mother won’t otherwise die; Whitening of rice, wheat; Sunscreen; Excessive hygiene; Not eating dirt; High fructose corn syrup; Soy milk; Child psychiatry.
He specifies though that iatrogenics is only a concern when someone is not terminal. IF they are at risk of death, iatrogenics don’t matter, it’s the little unnecessary interventions that are problematic.
He also specifies that what mother nature does and has done is rigorous until proven otherwise, but what humans do is flawed until proven otherwise. Nature’s fat’s turn out to be very healthy, human designed ones, not so much.
Treating the tumor that will not kill you shortens your life since chemotherapy is toxic.
Drink no liquid that isn’t at least a thousand years old (wine, water, coffee). Eat nothing invented or re-engineered by humans.
When consuming plants they would have been regular, meat irregular, so it would make sense to eat mostly plant based most of the time then feast on meat intermittently.
In nature, we had to expend energy to eat. Lions do not eat then hunt for fun. Fasting is quite good for us, and natural. We do not need to load up on food before doing something, rather, re-feed after.
“I would add that, in my own experience, a considerable jump in my personal health has been achieved by removing offensive irritants: the morning newspapers (the mere mention of the names of the fragilista journalists Thomas Friedman or Paul Krugman can lead to explosive bouts of unrequited anger on my part), the boss, the daily commute, air-conditioning (though not heating), television, emails from documentary filmmakers, economic forecasts, news about the stock market, gym “strength training” machines, and many more.”
He also points out the ill health and early death of many rich people, and argues: “If true wealth consists in worriless sleeping, clear conscience, reciprocal gratitude, absence of envy, good appetite, muscle strength, physical energy, frequent laughs, no meals alone, no gym class, some physical labor (or hobby), good bowel movements, no meeting rooms, and periodic surprises, then it is largely subtractive (elimination of iatrogenics).”
The Ethics of Fragility and Antifragility
Two rules for skin in the game:
- Never get on a plane if the pilot is not on board
- Make sure there is also a copilot
Another rule: “Never ask anyone for their opinion, forecast, or recommendation. Just ask them what they have, or don’t have, in their portfolio.”
Watch what people do, not what they say. Many researchers on happiness are earning more than $70,000 a year despite their own research saying it won’t make them any happier.
Only large corporations can afford to sell you things that kill you. Small ones go bust too easily, so there is a risk from taking advice and products that could not survive on small scales.
Something being marketed is necessarily inferior, otherwise it would not need to be aggressively marketed. Marketing beyond conveying information is insecurity.
The pursuit of meaning within Big Data has brought about many more spurious and random relationships than meaningful understanding. The false relationships will grow much faster than the real one, simply because chance allows so many more of them to be found.
“Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire.”
“If you see a fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.”
“A man is morally free when… he judges the world, and judges other men, with uncompromising sincerity.” – George Santayana
“If humans fight the last war, nature fights the next one.”
“Ancestral life had no homework, no boss, no civil servants, no academic grades, no conversation with the dean, no consultant with an MBA, no table of procedure, no application form, no trip to New Jersey, no grammatical stickler, no conversation with someone boring you: all life was random stimuli and nothing, good or bad, ever felt like work. Dangerous, yes, but boring, never.”
“This is the central illusion in life: that randomness is risky, that it is a bad thing— and that eliminating randomness is done by eliminating randomness.”
“Convincing— and confident— disciplines, say, physics, tend to use little statistical backup, while political science and economics, which have never produced anything of note, are full of elaborate statistics and statistical “evidence” (and you know that once you remove the smoke, the evidence is not evidence). The situation in science is similar to detective novels in which the person with the largest number of alibis turns out to be the guilty one.”
“I derived the rule that what is called “healthy” is generally unhealthy, just as “social” networks are antisocial, and the “knowledge”-based economy is typically ignorant.”
“The best way to verify that you are alive is by checking if you like variations. Remember that food would not have a taste if it were not for hunger; results are meaningless without effort, joy without sadness, convictions without uncertainty, and an ethical life isn’t so when stripped of personal risks.”
Book Summary by Nathaniel Eliason