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Peter Kaufman on The Multidisciplinary Approach to Thinking

Peter Kaufman, editor of Poor Charlie’s Almanack, on why is it important to be a multidisciplinary thinker.

Because as the Japanese proverb says, ‘The frog in the well, knows nothing of the mighty ocean.’
You may know everything there is to know about your specialty, your silo, your “well”, but how are you going to make any good decisions in life …
the complex systems of life, the dynamic system of life …
if all you know, is one well?

He then, talks about a sneaky shortcut on how he did it.

So I tried to learn what Munger calls, ‘the big ideas’ from all the different disciplines.
Right up front I want to tell you what my trick was, because if you try to do it the way he did it, you don’t have enough time in your life to do it. It’s impossible. Because the fields are too big and the books are too thick. So my trick to learn the big ideas of science, biology, etc., was I found this science magazine called Discover Magazine. […]
I found that this magazine every month had a really good interview with somebody from some aspect of science. Every month. And it was six or seven pages long. It was all in layperson’s terms. The person who was trying to get their ideas across would do so using good stories, clear language, and they would never fail to get all their big ideas into the interview. […]
So I discovered that on the Internet there were 12 years of Discover Magazine articles available in the archives. So I printed out 12 years times 12 months of these interviews. I had 144 of these interviews. And I put them in these big three ring binders. Filled up three big binders.
And for the next six months I went to the coffee shop for an hour or two every morning and I read these. And I read them index fund style, which means I read them all. I didn’t pick and choose. This is the universe and I’m going to own the whole universe. I read every single one.
Now I will tell you that out of 144 articles, if I’d have been selecting my reading material, I probably would have read about 14 of them. And the other 130? I would never in a million years read six pages on nanoparticles.
Guess what I had at the end of six months? I had inside my head every single big idea from every single domain of science and biology. It only took me 6 months. And it wasn’t that hard because it was written in layperson’s terms.
And really, what did I really get? Just like an index fund, I captured all the parabolic ideas that no one else has. And why doesn’t anybody else have these ideas? Because who in the world would read an interview on nanoparticles? And yet that’s where I got my best ideas. I would read some arcane subject and, oh my god, I saw, ‘That’s exactly how this works over here in biology.’ or ‘That’s exactly how this works over here in human nature.’ You have to know all these big ideas.

And then in an extraordinary step of generous giving, he spends the rest of the talk, summing all he has learnt into the next 40 or so minutes.

You should go read the talk at Latticework Investing.

Even better, you should go listen. Kaufman is a really engaging speaker.

I hope you listen to this, every once in a while like I do.

Shane Parrish also merges Peter’s ideas with the Durants for an amazing post on the lessons of history.

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P.P.S. Feed my insatiable reading habit.


Notes from Jocelyn K Glei’s Podcast Episode on Creativity & Efficiency

My dad was a carpenter.
Well everyone called him that, but I know him for what he truly was.
A craftsman.
Be it his work with wood, or the little works of art and craft he made for us or his drawings in my book; everything he did, was slow, and measured, and full of deliberation and intention.

Which is why this episode struck such a chord with me.
Jocelyn articulates beautifully, exactly what my father did.
I still remember his slight rankle, followed by this expression of sorrow, whenever I would rush him, tell him this much was good enough.
Thank God, he never listened to me.
He may not be here now, but everything he built, makes it like he is.

It’s a short delightful episode. Go listen.
Definitely worth your time and attention.
Everything below the break are my paraphrased notes.


Creativity and Efficiency, have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
The creative process actively resists efficiency.

Creativity is messy and organic and full of (as it looks from the outside) friction, which is a little bit frustrating, because everything else in our lives keeps getting faster, easier, smoother, more efficient, more frictionless.

We have become more accustomed to a kind of effortless convenience.
Ask and ye shall receive.

So there’s a really interesting tension here.
Between the pace of technology and the pace of creativity.

Work is what we do by the hour. It begins and, if possible, we do it for money. Welding car bodies on an assembly line is work; washing dishes, computing taxes, walking the rounds in a psychiatric ward, picking asparagus–these are work.

Labor, on the other hand, sets its own pace. We may get paid for it, but it’s harder to quantify… Writing a poem, raising a child, developing a new calculus, resolving a neurosis, invention in all forms — these are labors.

Work is an intended activity that is accomplished through the will. A labor can be intended but only to the extent of doing the groundwork, or of not doing things that would clearly prevent the labor. Beyond that, labor has its own schedule.

[…]

There is no technology, no time-saving device that can alter the rhythms of creative labor. When the worth of labor is expressed in terms of exchange value, therefore, creativity is automatically devalued every time there is an advance in the technology of work.

The Gift, Lewis Hyde

As technology makes everything more efficient, we tend to think that creativity should also become more efficient, that there must be a way to do creative work, that’s better, faster, more scalable … but is there?

What’s more important?
Doing all the things?
Or enjoying all the things that you’re doing?

Creativity resists efficiency.
No one can tell you how much time something should take, because creativity is not measurable on a time clock.
It’s not practical or efficient or objectively quantifiable.
What it is, is deeply personal.

No one knows, how long it takes to make anything.
Which means, no one knows what pace your creative process should unfold at, except for you.
And no one knows, what boundaries you need to setup to protect that process, but you.
And no one knows, how much you should obsess about the details, or how far you should go, and when you should say, “This is enough!”‚ but you.

Remarkable creative projects don’t come from efficiency.
If anything, they come from inefficiency.
From doggedly ignoring all the rules, and saying,

“I am going to devote an ungodly amount of time to this thing, that no one else thinks is important, but that I think is important.”

Great creative work comes from slowing down, when every one else is rushing around and saying,

“I’m going to take my time and notice this thing, that everyone else is missing and really sit with it, and contemplate it and craft it to create something remarkable.
Actually, something that’s even more remarkable, because no one else would have taken the time.”

So the next time you feel stuck or rushed or judged for your “inefficiencies”, remember that they’re also your strength.
Because greater comes from working at your own pace.
Remember to take your time.

P.S. Also, remember to subscribe to the mailing list, if you haven’t already! :)


Escape the Algorithm!

Seeing as you folks are reading my newsletter, I know I am preaching to the choir, but this article, summarises my thoughts on social media excellently!

from the Art of Manliness,

At first, it wasn’t so bad. But then I started noticing that I wasn’t seeing all the updates from pages I followed on Facebook.
Come to find out, Facebook started changing their News Feed algorithm so that only the content Facebook thought you’d be interested in the most showed up in your feed. Facebook claimed they were just trying to help users sift through the firehose of information being blasted at them. Critics argued Facebook was just trying to keep people more engaged on Facebook because that makes money for Facebook. And that they were trying to force pages to pay money for their content to show up in the News Feeds they had once shown up in organically.
I was just ticked that I wasn’t seeing all the stuff from Facebook pages that I had deliberately opted into getting updates from.

Twitter added changes to their algorithm that boosted tweets to the top of your timeline based on what they thought you’d want to see. Again, Twitter claimed they were trying to be helpful. Critics argued it was just a ploy for users to engage with and stay on Twitter longer (which makes Twitter more money).
I was miffed some algorithm was deciding what I saw.

and

Besides the comments, there are those other little signals on social media that can end up skewing what you think of something: likes, RTs, faves, hearts.

And come to find out, a lot of these “one-bit indicators” (as Digital Minimalism author Cal Newport calls them) are coming from bots. Not from actual people. A lot of social media is fake. Hype.

The benefits? Here’s Brett again,

I see the content I want to see.
Am I interested in everything Marginal Revolution puts out? Of course not, but instead of some stupid social media algorithm trying to predict whether I’ll be interested in a piece of content or not, I get to decide whether I’m interested in it or not. It’s nice being in complete control of my media consumption again.

I no longer see other people’s opinions about content before I consume said content.
When you subscribe to a site’s RSS feed, you just see the content. That’s it. There are no comments or social media feedback about that content. Instead of the hot take of some internet stranger tainting how I read something, I read it completely unfiltered and come to my own conclusions.
Reading content without the social media commentary is a way to practice self-reliance. Instead of relying on other people to help you figure out what you think of something, you get to figure that out yourself. You’re in charge, and being in charge of your opinions feels good.

I spend less time online.
AoM podcast guest John Zeratsky calls Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram “infinity pools.” They’re apps in which the content is continually refreshed, and thus has no “end.” You might use Twitter to follow some “thought leader” you enjoy, but besides the stuff he puts out, you’re also presented with all the comments that his followers append to his tweets. There’s a constant stream of new content and commentary on Twitter, and as our brains desire novelty, that makes the platform massively appealing to check over and over again. You’re never done reading content on social media.
Now that I just consume my content via RSS or email, I’ve found myself spending less time online. You just read the article and you’re done. There’s some finitude to it.

I rest easy knowing that social media companies have less data on me.
Social media companies don’t charge you money to use their services, but that doesn’t mean the services are “free.” Instead of exchanging money, you hand over gobs of personal and private information about yourself, which allows social media companies to sell ads targeted to your personal dossier.
What’s more, these companies (particularly Facebook) have a lousy track record of keeping your private information private.
The rugged, individualistic, keep-out-of-my-business side of myself treasures his privacy. I like for other people or companies to not know what’s going on in all facets of my life. While I’ll likely never be able to completely eliminate my digital footprint, reducing my social media use can significantly shrink it.

I’m happier.
One of the things I’ve noticed about not using social media is that I just feel happier.
First, because I’m spending less time online I have more time to do things I enjoy in real life.
Second, because I don’t see the opinions of the masses on RSS or email, I don’t expose myself to all the negativity that plagues social media. I’ve noticed I’m less pissy the less I’m exposed to the low-grade fever of anger that constantly brews online.
Third, social media can really skew what your brain considers important. If everyone on Twitter was talking about it, it had to be important, right? Not really.
Now that I’m off social media, my brain’s bandwidth is no longer clogged up with all that faux-important social media garbage. My attention is focused on the stuff that’s really important: family, friends, health, spirituality, and of course, barbell training.

Who doesn’t want to be happier?
So the best use of our time, is probably to quit social media.
How then to keep up with things that interest us?
With old fashioned tools.
Email & RSS readers.
Subscribe to interesting newsletters, (cough, like mine, cough)
Use a feed reader to keep up with interesting sites.

Algorithms control what you see, and as what you pay attention to becomes your reality, algorithms create your reality. If you want to program your own reality, rather than having it programmed by corporate computer coding, then escape the algorithm, escape social media, take the training wheels off your online content consumption, and ride it in a more direct, autonomous, liberated way.

P.S. The whole article, is well worth your time!
P.P.S. After reading this, don’t you think, you need to forward my mails to your friends, and tell them to subscribe? :)


How To Say No to Others, Better!

Last weeks post seemed to have hit a nerve.
Most of you seem to have opened it rather quickly.
And then a few of you, complained! Rather quickly.

“All this is well and good, but I want to say No, to other people!

Well, I can help you with that too!
Eric Barker, of Barking Up the Wrong Tree fame, has an excellent post on how to do just that!

This is how we do it.

1. Notice the no’s: Saying no rarely leads to vendettas or blood feuds. It’s more common and less risky than you think.
People say no to requests all the time and suffer no ill consequences. The sea doesn’t turn to blood and frogs don’t fall from the sky. The requester just shrugs and says, “Okay.”
But you forget those all too easily and train your attention on the 0.02% of the time when the other person blew up and stormed away, never to speak to you again.
So watch your interactions and the interactions of others more closely. Notice all the times “no” doesn’t cause any problems and try to develop a more realistic perspective.


2. Buy time: I’m not sure I can summarize this one right now. I’ll get back to you later.
When you feel pressured for a yes, don’t give the yes — relieve the pressure. Ask for time. This will allow you to calm down and properly evaluate whether you really want to agree or not.
Memorize two of these phrases and make them your default response to any request:

  • “I need to check my calendar; I’ll get back to you.”
  • “Let me check with my husband/wife/partner to see if we’re free that day.”
  • “I’ve got to think about that; I’ll let you know.”
  • “I’ll have to call you back in a few minutes.”

Don’t turn them into questions. They’re statements. And use a pleasant but assertive tone.


3. Have a “policy”: Sorry, but it’s my policy to never summarize the third point.
… suppose a friend asks for a loan you don’t want to extend. Utter the phrase “Sorry, I have a policy about not lending money,” and your refusal immediately sounds less personal. In all kinds of situations, invoking a policy adds weight and seriousness when you need to say no. It implies that you’ve given the matter considerable thought on a previous occasion and learned from experience that what the person is requesting is unwise. It can also convey that you’ve got a prior commitment you can’t break. When you turn down an invitation by saying, “Sorry, I can’t come—it’s our policy to have dinner together as a family every Friday night,” it lets the other person know that your family ritual is carved in stone.


4. Be a “broken record”: I can’t summarize this. I can’t summarize this. I can’t summarize this.
How do you deal with people who don’t take no for an answer?
First thing to do is say you can’t help them.
The second through seven-hundredth thing to do is repeat the first thing.


5. Use a “relational account”: If I summarized this for you I wouldn’t have time to summarize for others.
Your response should take the structure of: “If I helped you, I’d be letting others down.”


6. Make a counteroffer: I can’t summarize this but I can link you to another blog that will.
What if you don’t want to give a flat no? You want to help but can’t commit to the specifics of what they’re asking for. Here’s what to do …
They want you to donate $487,000. Um, no way. But I can give you $10 …
“I’m not qualified to do what you’re asking, but here’s something else.”
“This isn’t in my wheelhouse, but I know someone who might be helpful.”
You can make a counteroffer to almost any request by offering someone a different resource or the name of someone else who might help.

Like my summary of Eric’s summary?
You should go read his post. It has the why, and the how and tons of examples and references!

P.S. And if you’re reading this on my blog, you should subscribe to the newsletter!


How to Say No, Better

Another James Clear pick today.

How do you make it easier on yourself to say no?
To stick to that diet?
To stop goofing off and buckle down and study or work?

Because,

The ability to overcome temptation and effectively say no is critical not only to your physical health, but also to maintaining a sense of well–being and control in your mental health.

We do this, by assertion rather than denying ourselves day in and day out.
Not that I can’t do this. Just that I don’t. I am a person who eats good food. So I don’t eat junk food.
I am a person who wants to be a programmer. So I don’t browse the web aimlessly all day.
I am a person who wants his mind in his control all the time. So I don’t drink.

When you decide ‘who’ you want to be, it becomes easier to decide, ‘what’ you don’t want to do.

Here’s an anecdote, James shares,

Group 1 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals they should “just say no.” This group was the control group because they were given no specific strategy.

Group 2 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals, they should implement the “can't” strategy. For example, “I can't miss my workout today.”

Group 3 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals, they should implement the “don't” strategy. For example, “I don't miss workouts.”

For the next 10 days, each woman received an email asking to report her progress. They were specifically told, “During the 10–day window you will receive emails to remind you to use the strategy and to report instances in which it worked or did not work. If the strategy is not working for you, just drop us a line and say so and you can stop responding to the emails.”

Here's what the results looked like 10 days later…

  • Group 1 (the “just say no” group) had 3 out of 10 members who persisted with their goals for the entire 10 days.
  • Group 2 (the “can't” group) had 1 out of 10 members who persisted with her goal for the entire 10 days.
  • Group 3 (the “don't” group) had an incredible 8 out of 10 members who persisted with their goals for the entire 10 days.

The words that you use not only help you to make better choices on an individual basis, but also make it easier to stay on track with your long–term goals.

So, say, I don’t, and you’ll say no more effectively :)

Why does this work better than I can’t?
How do I apply this to my life?
Read James’ article to find out.

P.S. And, go subscribe to the newsletter, if you are reading this on the web :)


How Do You Keep Keep Going?

Or how do you actually go do anything else you committed to do for yourself?
I always got confused on what to do when the going got tough and life happened and my goals then got waylaid.
Other than feeling lost and giving up on projects and promising to do better tomorrow, or next time?
(which took a looooooong time to come)
What could I do?

James Clear offers a lovely heuristic, that I have been applying to my writing since the year began.
(along with Seth’s advice to queue things up)

3. Reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule.

I've written previously about the importance of holding yourself to a schedule and not a deadline.
There might be occasions when deadlines make sense, but I'm convinced that when it comes to doing important work over the long–term, following a schedule is much more effective.

When it comes to the day-to-day grind, however, following a schedule is easier said than done.
Ask anyone who plans to workout every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and they can tell you how hard it is to actually stick to their schedule every time without fail.

To counteract the unplanned distractions that occur and overcome the tendency to be pulled off track, I've made a small shift in how I approach my schedule.

My goal is to put the schedule first and not the scope, which is the opposite of how we usually approach our goals.

For example, let's say you woke up today with the intention of running 3 miles this afternoon.
During the day, your schedule got crazy and time started to get away from you.
Now you only have 20 minutes to workout.

At this point, you have two options.

The first is to say, “I don't have enough time to workout today,” and spend the little time you have left working on something else.
This is what I would usually have done in the past.

The second option is to reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule. Instead of running 3 miles, you run 1 mile or do five sprints or 30 jumping jacks.
But you stick to the schedule and get a workout in no matter what.
I have found far more long-term success using the this approach than the first.

On a daily basis, the impact of doing five sprints isn't that significant, especially when you had planned to run 3 miles.
But the cumulative impact of always staying on schedule is huge. No matter what the circumstance and no matter how small the workout, you know you're going to finish today's task.
That's how little goals become lifetime habits.

Finish something today, even if the scope is smaller than you anticipated.

If you like this tip the whole post is even more awesome.
Go find out Time Management Tips That Actually Work on his blog.

P.S. You should subscribe to the mailing list, you know. :)
P.P.S I haven’t missed a single week since I started doing this!