Discover more from A Few Things....
A Few Things: The Satisfaction Trap, Marko Papic on Markets, Niall Ferguson on Tim Ferriss, How To Have Great Meetings, West's Scale Cont'd, The End of Tech Jobs, The Unfolding FTX Saga.....
November 22, 2022
I am sharing this weekly email with you because I count you in the group of people I learn from and enjoy being around.
You can check out last week’s edition here: Morgan Housel on Attention, How To Be Happier, Energy Security, Scale by Geoffrey West, The End of FTX.....
"When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running."
- James Clear
"People who live far below their means enjoy a freedom that people busy upgrading their lifestyles can’t fathom."
- Naval Ravikant
“The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.”
- Henry Ford Sr.
“Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know.”
- Eric Hoffer
“A person who has not made peace with his losses is likely to accept gambles that would be unacceptable to him otherwise.”
- Daniel Kahneman
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”
- Amelia Earhart
A. A Few Things Worth Checking Out:
1. The Satisfaction Trap. Arthur Brooks does an excellent job explaining why we are never satisfied and how to change that in this Atlantic article from March 2022.
The whole article is fantastic, but if you're looking for some tangible takeaways, he outlines three suggestions for avoiding dissatisfaction:
Go from prince to sage: Focus less on accumulating things—status, power, possessions—and more on helping others by sharing what you've learned and accumulated.
Make a reverse bucket list: Instead of focusing on extrinsic accomplishments—things for which others might admire you—focus on intrinsic accomplishments—things for which you will admire yourself. These will often be relationships and pursuits that provide purpose and meaning.
Get smaller: Take note of the smallest ordinary moments and appreciate their simple satisfactions. Listen to the birds sing in the morning. Watch the last rays of sunlight in the evening. Appreciate the raindrops making ripples as they pour into your pool.
My favourite quote from the article:
The secret to satisfaction is not to increase our haves...The secret is to manage our wants. By managing what we want instead of what we have, we give ourselves a chance to lead more satisfied lives.
2. My favourite market strategist, Marko Papic was on Bloomberg discussing markets.
He thinks China will be pivoting both in terms of stimulus and re-opening, and recommends owning Chinese stocks as a trade.
Marko and team at Clocktower Group had a great 84-page deck which you should get your hands on. Here is one of my favourite:
And if you can’t get enough of Marko, he was also on this great panel at the Bloomberg New Economy forum - it was a discussion of geopolitics and technology with a focus on semiconductors.
3. Tim Ferriss had Niall Ferguson on his podcast titled: The Coming Cold War II, Visible and Invisible Geopolitics, Why Even Atheists Should Study Religion, Masters of Paradox, Fatherhood, Fear, and More.
I am a Ferguson fan boy, and these in my opinion are the key bits from the show notes:
[08:00] The license to be outrageous in academia ain’t what it used to be.
[20:26] A.J.P. Taylor and the philosophy of history.
[48:39] What Niall gets out of digging deep into historical correspondence.
[54:04] Cold War II — what can we do?
[1:10:44] Keeping Cold War II from heating up into World War III.
[1:16:37] Economic interdependence does not preclude conflict.
[1:36:15] Why someone raised as an atheist takes his kids to church.
[1:42:42] Has marriage to ex-Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali changed Niall’s view of Western philosophy?
4. I hate most meetings….we have all sat through far too many useless meetings and probably will continue to do so. This great substack has a few good ideas to fix that.
5. A couple of charts I’ve been thinking about:
B. Geoffrey West’s Scale:
Last week, we had discussed Geoffrey West’s book Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies.
You can watch this 9-min video to catch up:
Let’s finish the discussion on the rest of the book from here.
After spending the first half of the book on the human body, West goes on to tackle cities and corporations and see what types of scaling laws could apply to them.
He found that similar to organisms, cities also underlie these fundamental power law scalings and follow the same space-filling network principles discussed.
However, instead of the quarter-power exponents that govern organisms, the exponents 0.85 and 1.15 play a critical role in urban systems. Infrastructure, i.e. the lengths of roads and pipes, number of gas stations, etc. scales sublinearly with population size with exponent 0.85.
In contrast, socioeconomic quantities such as number of patents, income, and the global domestic product (GDP) scale superlinearly with exponent 1.15.
This is due to the increased interactions and social lives that people lead in big cities. However, the good is also matched by the bad and the ugly, meaning that crime and disease also scale with exponent 1.15.
Thus, all you need is the size of a city within a particular national urban system and you can predict with 80–90% accuracy its average wage, number of patents produced, how long all of its roads are. These predictions don’t hold true between national urban systems, as they depend on metrics such as overall economy, culture, and individuality and thus are unique to each nation.
He then looked at companies.
He found that the longest surviving companies are relatively modest in size and are highly specialised, operating in niche markets such as ancient inns, wineries, breweries, confectioners, restaurants, and the like. These seem to have survived by continuing to produce a perceived high-quality product for a small, dedicated clientele. Interestingly, most of them are Japanese.
And here’s where most companies got in trouble: in order to achieve greater efficiency while striving for greater market share and increased profits, companies typically add more rules, regulations, and protocols, very often at the expense of R&D, which should be the major insurance policy for a company’s long-term survival.
Most companies become very unidimensional by focusing only on short-term goals. This reduction in diversity, along with the lack of R&D and other predicaments, are classic indicators of reduced resilience and are typically a recipe for eventual disaster.
It is worth adding that unlike companies (or organisms for that matter), cities are remarkably resilient and don’t seem to die at all, not even when great damage is done to them, such as Hiroshima, Nagasaki, or Detroit.
It’s worth watching West’s initial TED Talk from 2011 in full. It’s got 157k views on You Tube.
C. The Tech and Crypto Section:
1. What happens if Elon Musk shows that you can run Twitter with 90% fewer employees?
There have been few easier ways to make $1mm a year for little risk and not much hard work than being in middle management at large cap tech companies.
But, we are now in a broader tech lay-off cycle as the economy slows. If Elon Musk pulls off running Twitter with 700 instead of 7,000 staff, it’s going to get scary for large-cap tech employees.
TCI (the UK based activist investor) wrote a letter to Alphabet stating:
The cost base of Alphabet is too high and that management needs to take aggressive action. The company has too many employees and the cost per employee is too high…Our conversations with former executives of Alphabet suggest that the business could be operated more effectively with significantly fewer employees. We agree with Altimeter Capital's Brad Gerstner, who wrote: "It is a poorly kept secret in Silicon Valley that companies ranging from Google to Meta to Twitter to Uber could achieve similar levels of revenue with far fewer people."….In a new era of slower revenue growth, aggressive cost management is essential.
The All-In podcast discussed this last week - 59mins in. It’s a great listen.
Maybe what happened to banking & finance post 2007 is about to happen to tech.
2. GPT-4 is almost ready and will hopefully be released sometime before February. The release may bring over 100x improvement in terms of parameters. It will likely be able to pass the Turing test with ease, although the Turing test is now generally regarded as obsolete. The model will be able to accept text, audio, image, and possibly video inputs.
3. I left FTX to the end, since I’m sure your inbox is already filled with it. Here are two of the best things I’ve read or listened to on it.
In Episode 283 of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Vance Spencer and Michael Anderson about the downfall of FTX, the political back-story behind Sam Bankman-Fried’s legislative push to build a regulatory moat around his business empire, and the path forward for the crypto industry.
Quoting Hidden Forces show notes:
Cashing in on the tens of millions of dollars that he spent to curry favor with lawmakers, Fried spent his time behind the scenes persuading them to pass a bill known as the ‘Digital Commodities Consumer Protection Act.’ Sponsored by Senators Debbie Stabenow and John Boozman, the DCCPA would, according to some of its critics, make it impossible for open source developers to function within the U.S., limit access to decentralized financial products and applications for U.S. consumers, and create a regulatory monopoly for FTX in the United States.
At the same time there were rumors circulating that regulators may have somehow been working on behalf of SBF. Specifically, US representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota tweeted out a few days ago that there were reports coming into to his office suggesting that the chairman of the SEC was “helping SBF and FTX work on legal loopholes to obtain a regulatory monopoly.”
Yes, Sam Bankman-Fried a bad dude, but our system rewards bad dudes. And too often it punishes good ones. We need to change that. If we want to see a positive change in our country—whether in crypto, finance, the media, or in the nation’s capital—we have to work together to fix the problem. And we have to hold people accountable, including ourselves, because in a democracy there is no one else.