A Few Things....

November 19, 2019

Hi, it’s Ahmed. As usual, I’ll be exploring the world at the intersection of humans, markets and technology. If you like this email, please hit the heart at the top of this message!

1. The Monkey Mind.

There is so much noise every day. How many of us live days that are going from meetings to emails to meetings to phone calls to emails. Which is strange because most of us are knowledge workers, we get paid to think.

But to think, we have to make time to think and form an informed opinion, rather than be distracted by the many shiny objects that are out there.

It’s easy to get pulled into many different directions, and at the end of the week find that you didn’t get done what you really needed to do to move your life forward.

This hit me again while reading The Man Who Cracked The Market, about Renaissance Technologies. Yes, this was definitely a lot of smart people, but what set them apart was their maniacal focus on a specific problem over long lengths of time, which is nicely summed up by the Einstein quote:

“It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.”

One of the book’s that helped me deal with my monkey mind (and I had it really bad especially when I was on the GS trading floor with all sorts of flashing lights and ringing phones) was Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Cal is a professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, who has also written six books in his spare time (talk about focus !).

Here’s what I learnt:

Thinking Time - I only have set capacity of concentration every day - a very finite and limited amount and if I was going to think useful thoughts I really had to schedule periods of concentration during the day to get stuff done. That can be the time I read, learn or think. Any and all of it needed to be scheduled and prioritized.

Narrow Focus - Focus on a narrow number of tasks that I wanted to get done that day, things that were going to move the dial for me. Ask myself every morning “If I only get 2 or 3 big things done today, what should they be?”.

Pareto Principle - There is usually a lot of junk floating around in my life. Just like junk food in my diets, there are junk meetings and junk emails. Try to get rid of as much of the low value stuff. When I did an analysis of where I was spending my time, I found that 30-50% was being spent on low value tasks. The key is to find the 20% of stuff that gives me 80% of the outcomes, and then double down on the 20%.

Lots more in the book, which I highly recommend.


2. Longevity.

Late last week I attended the Longevity Forum in London, organized by Dafina Grapci-Penny, Jim Mellon and Andrew Scott (co-author of 100 Year Life).

We will be hearing a lot more about this in the mainstream media regularly, in the meantime, you should check out this BBC talk from the event (or as a podcast here).

Two articles that summarize the key ideas:

Camilla Cavendish interviewing Nir Barzilai for the Sunday Telegraph.

Jim Mellon in Longevity Technology.

You got my take in last week’s email, I think this space is real and there is a lot we can already do to extend our lives.

Putting the individual goals of living longer aside, the big societal change will be the structural changes required as average life expectancy goes from the ~80 years it is today to the ~100 years it could be at in just a few years.

I don’t think enough people are discussing the benefits and problems of a greying world.


3. A Few Things Worth Checking Out:

A. One of the speeches I re-read every six months is Jeff Bezos “We Are What We Choose” Princeton speech. Two key passages:

What I want to talk to you about today is the difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy -- they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.

I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.

B. I’ve started reading Howard Marks new book - “Mastering the Market Cycle”, more on that in a few weeks, in the meantime, you can check out a distilled “teacher’s reference guide” describing his investing philosophy in a clear, effective, and concise manner.

C. Malcolm Gladwell was on the Joe Rogan show discussing his new book - “Talking to Strangers”. A key passage from the book:

We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy.


Quotes I’m thinking about:

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

- Saint Francis of Assisi

“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”

- Joseph Campbell