A Few Things....

June 19 2019

Back to normal programming…..

1. Just finished David Epstein’s book - Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.

This is a special book. It fits Charlie Munger’s quote:

“We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side.”

The book basically argues the opposite of what Malcom Gladwell (Outliers) and Angela Duckworth (Grit) have been saying.

The key thesis being that the human world is very broad, there is a lot happening, a lot changing. It’s not like Tiger Wood playing golf where it’s a single player game. Life is more like playing Martian Tennis where the rules keep changing.

The book argues that we now live in a complex world that is changing far faster than the world our ancestors or prior societies had to live through. While in the past specializing was rewarded, in the current and future world it’s more important to be flexible because you don’t know what specialist knowledge you will need - similar to Munger’s concept of latticework of knowledge or mental model.

The other point the book makes is that it is normal for our work and life preferences to change, because we as individuals change. You are not who you were at age 25. One of the great little ideas in the book for all of us as we explore our future is to “flirt with our possible selves”. We learn who we are in practice, not in theory.

The three pieces of advice I picked up:

Firstly, introduce variety into whatever you are doing - this improves performance and allows you to discover new ideas. This is known in machine learning as overcoming the local minimum problem.

Secondly, there is this cultural notion that we can simply introspect or take a personality quiz and learn who we are. But it doesn’t work like that - to better understand your strengths, weaknesses, and interests, you actually have to try stuff. Experimentation, trying different stuff, can feel like wasted time, but in fact you are working toward maximizing what economists call “match quality,” or the degree of fit between your skills, interests, and what you do. Your growth rate is much higher with good match quality. Time experimenting is not a sunk cost. It’s an investment in long-term development.

Lastly, drop your obsession with “the cult of the head start.” Evidence shows that head starts tend to show a “fadeout” effect, both in sports and other areas. A common trait amongst happy high performers is that they adopt a “plan-and-adjust” mentality, rather than sticking to ironclad long-term goals. Known in the tech world as shipping your minimum viable product.

If you want to skip the book, check out this podcast he did on "Invest Like the Best”

2. Do you workout ? I think most of us workout in some way - weights, running, walking…..But how many train our brains ? One of the best things I started doing last year was TM (transcendental meditation), though any type will do. I highly recommend you try it. You may find it hard in the beginning because we have a hard time being alone with ourselves and our thoughts.

The gateway for most people these days is the Headspace App. I had a chance to hear from one of the founders last week during the CogX AI Festival, here are some stats I wrote down:

- Meditation is the fastest growing part of the wellness sector, faster than yoga. It’s because we all have a mind, and we all struggle with it from time to time.

- Studies show that young people from 13 - 20 are 4x more likely to have a depressive disorder than in previous times. They are lonely.

- There are 50mm people around the world using Headspace.

If you are looking to understand the science behind meditation then check out: The Science of Meditation by Daniel Goleman

3. Three things worth watching or listening to

A. As I get older, I am trying to figure out how to not only have a long life span, but also a long health span. Peter Attia’s podcast on how to tame aging was an eye opener.

B. If you feel any envy, read about the Dangers of Comparing Yourself to Others

C. Great discussion about AI in China with Jeff Ding (author of China AI newsletter)

Quotes I am thinking about:

“Always do what you are afraid to do” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you'll be able to see farther” - Thomas Carlyle

“All appears to change, when we change” - Henri-Frederic Amiel