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12 posts from June 2013

TFS: Instead of scanning the horizon, look for evidence to pile up

Tq130613hnIf you're a news junky as I am, you drink from a firehose of announcements every day. We hear 'this is changing, that's changing, watch out--so and so is going away.' I would like to suggest this: It doesn't matter. 95% of the news is useless. It's nice to know what's going on. But real understanding comes from watching what is piling up behind it.

Peter Bregman has a 'rule of three.' That means waiting for something to happen three times. It's amazing how many things DON'T happen three times.

New things to do VS daily practice

I just finished reading two self-help books which are both quite enjoyable. Peter Bregman's 18 Minutes has many unusual tips about avoiding over-commitment and procrastination. James Altucher's Choose Yourself has the best creativity advice I've seen in a long time. 

Tq130611rdBoth these books are strong on the newest trend in self development: the daily practice. I suspect that a daily practice is very challenging for young people. When I was in my twenties, I valued spontaneity and trying new things, but by the time I reached my forties I was miserable in many ways. I was successful, but I didn't enjoy what I was doing. 

Eventually, after counseling with a nun at Villa Matel, and reading as much as I could about culture and creativity, I realized that rituals are an important foundation for adventure. Both Bregman and Althucher have about a thousand suggestions, and both admit you just have to pick a combination of things which allow you to stabilize yourself. 

When change and opportunity are all around, you have to decide carefully about what is not allowed to change.

TFS: Beware the lucky dog

In making decisions, we avoid variance. We want to bet on a sure thing. And yet, our desire to win often overcomes us. We pick a stock or a job candidate or a restaurant because it was recently successful. We pay less attention than we should to its track record. We think we have this crucial insight into its success, and we want to jump on the band wagon. But we are deluding ourselves, creating a causal story for the success in our mind but not testing that hypothesis. Tq130607ldWe ignore the enormous importance of luck in that recent success, and when we ignore the luck, "regression to the mean" almost guarantees disappointment.

The only solution I can suggest is to distrust sudden success. One of my favorite movies is Pulp Fiction, where the charachters who survive have a healthy respect for their own luck. When something goes their way, they do NOT assume they deserved it or created it. Samuel Jackson's character gives credit to God. Bruce Willis's character just assumes his luck will change FAST. But neither one of them gets cocky about their success the way the John Travolta character does. That doesn't work out for him.

TFS: Making up stories to remember the truth

Our brains are not wired to quickly grasp statistical realities. We crave cause and effect. Over the centuries some of our best thinkers have tried to help us grasp reality by inventing metaphors and stories that will stick in our mind, such as the "random walk." (Whether or not you believe that stock prices behave that way is not the point. The point is that this statistical hypothesis needed a memorable name to help people grasp it.)

"Black Swan" is another memorable story about statistical reality, this one invented by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of Tq130605shregular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme 'impact'. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

Another favorite story of mine is "It's not about you." We have a tendency to personalize everything that happens to us. When some poor victim of happenstance (like me) wants to share of tale of woe about how they (I) never get what they (I) want, just roll your eyes and say "maybe it's not about you."