Andy has a background in computer science and is the son of a particle physicist. In the talk, he discussed his book The Martian and its upcoming film adaptation starring Matt Damon. It was really interesting to learn about Andy's process of writing and how a well-loved book becomes a film.
Last week, I was incredibly excited to welcome Andy Weir to Google LA for an Authors@Google talk.
Andy has a background in computer science and is the son of a particle physicist. In the talk, he discussed his book The Martian and its upcoming film adaptation starring Matt Damon. It was really interesting to learn about Andy's process of writing and how a well-loved book becomes a film.
The fifth selection of Half Half Man’s Book Club was George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying. I must admit it was quite a downer -- up until the last pages. I kept feeling angry and disappointed by the main character, Gordon Comstock, who is clearly talented but lets his talents go to waste because of absurd principles he stubbornly holds on to. In the end it is love (by accident) that forces him to wake up and find a way to make his life meaningful, and we can learn a lot from his sad story and apply it to our own artistic endeavors which often seem no less difficult than Gordon’s.
Dedication to art and quality
It’s immediately apparent to the reader that Gordon is talented and has a keen eye and ear for words and a deep love of books. He hates the idea of “jobs” and the only job that’s not completely offensive is working in a bookstore. For him, there is a clear delineation between books that are crap and books that are gold. When he comes home at night, penniless and hungry, his only consolation is rereading his favorite books. And when he sees advertisements or prose that’s poorly written, it incites in him a visceral anger. He is not just a “fan” of the English language used right; it is his life. And it is in the same way that he knows his body that he knows his art and written creations.
Reading these things about Gordon reminded me of my favorite magicians and their dedication to their art and to quality. As I have tried to grow as a student myself, my appreciation has deepened for the immense amount of time and effort that professionals put into each element of their routines, each word, gesture, and move being an artistic and thoughtful choice. Real artists strive -- in fact, are ready to suffer -- for quality in the same way, no matter the art form.
Principled or stubborn?
Gordon’s love of poetry and art is his strength, but it is also the cause of his downfall. He turns his love of art into a hate for money (which is further reinforced by his poverty). In his mind, he can’t reconcile how life and society can be good while also being linked to money. For him, the most despicable idea is that of a “real job.” He struggles to figure out how to live by writing poetry and making art, and he fails to take advantage of opportunities that come his way even when he gets lucky breaks. As a result, he lets his skills and art go to waste out of pure stubbornness.
This is a pretty sad and extreme counterexample to how an artist should be. There is certainly virtue in dedicating yourself to a principled existence and to giving 100% of your time and energy to a single cause, but the principles Gordon chose were counterproductive, and he never really dedicated himself in a professional way to his own art. Gordon’s is certainly a cautionary tale for any magician considering going full-time or struggling with a job in general. No matter what you apply yourself to -- magic or otherwise -- you always need to do your best, be productive, and focus on reality and principles that will lead to a rational, happy life.
Professionalism and creativity
This book certainly gets across the fact that creativity in art is hard work. But that’s not something that Gordon really knew how to do well. It’s clear how he struggled to write and create poetry, but it’s also clear how he lost the battle to procrastination, wasted time, and writer’s block. In the rare times he actually showed his work to others, he either squandered whatever success he found or let himself get completely hammered by rejection and self-doubt. He was not one to take feedback constructively. Gordon’s story is a warning to anyone who loves his or her art but struggles to do it professionally.
Luckily, there is a better example and process, described eloquently by Steven Pressfield in his book, The War of Art (1). Pressfield does an excellent job effectively describing Gordon and his maladies in the concept which he coins “resistance.” It’s anything that gets in the way of sitting your butt down to write or create, to do the annoying, frustrating, and difficult work that needs to be done. Pressfield offers the concept of “turning pro” in the abstract sense as the solution: adopting the habits of a professional in your approach to art. This means having a morning routine, which many of the most successful artists do (2), showing up every day to your art like it’s your job, and forcing yourself through habit and explicit rules to get work done at all cost, even if it’s minimal or initially crappy.
The fifth selection of Half Half Man’s Book Club was a sad but important lesson in the struggle to create art in a practical real world. In the end, it is love that forces Gordon to use his talents and create art through his job. It is sad that he chose to give up on his poetry to do that, but as a professional, he will be able to create and produce words that impact people’s lives positively, and maybe one day he can return to the poetry that got him started. If he had approached his art like a professional from the beginning, it’s possible his life may have turned out quite differently.
1. Steven Pressfield. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. 2002.
A good friend recently recommended to me the book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance. As a fan of Tesla, SpaceX, and all the things I had heard about Elon as an entrepreneur, I was always interested in his life and learning more about his methods. This book turned out to be an awesome glimpse into all those things.
I really enjoyed the detailed stories and the insider quotes from Elon and many of the people who worked closely with him. It reminded me of my tour of the SpaceX office with my UCLA Anderson Vistage group and the amazing opportunity we had to do a short Q&A with Elon when we were there. I could tell even then that he works extremely hard and thinks everything through "from first principles." His speaking wasn't polished or showy -- he just focused on facts and showed 200% commitment to his wild goals.
Below are my notes on the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot from someone so passionate and working on things that actually matter in the long run and are changing the world.
1 elon's world
Meaningful world view
Saving the human race
Wrote his own computer game
Photographic visual processing in brain
Read 10 hours per day as a child
Went through all books in library and 2 encyclopedias
Doesn't take no for answer
Wanted to work on biggest impact areas: renewable energy, Internet, space
4 elon's first startup
Living at office
Zip2 bringing businesses online
Do or die but don't give up
5 PayPal mafia boss
Reinvested almost all money into X online bank
Coups and issues with leadership and being kicked out
6 space x
Moved to LA for aerospace and to escape valley
Sending mice to Mars
Tried to buy rockets from Russians but was too expensive
Read rocket textbooks and Made spreadsheet that showed could do it a lot cheaper
Making as much as practical at spacex
Engineers sitting next to factory workers and welders
Son died; didn't believe in open grieving and wallowing in sadness
When things go wrong must have all the info and a plan
Work computers to play quake
Lots of failed launches
7 all electric
Straubel believed in Power of lithium ion batteries for solar car at Stanford
Used Silicon Valley tactics instead of Detroit bureaucracy
Sent engineers into field to be able to iterate faster
Fired ppl due to typos
Required extremely hard work
Lots of delivery delays and issues with contractors
8 pain suffering and survival
Team of nannies
7 days of work per week
Worsening financial situation
Day away from bankruptcy for both companies
Huge successes and contracts
Need to understand how mechanical things work
In house manufacturing
Factory inside office with engineers
10 revenge of electric car
Model s success
Prototyped batteries for other car companies and beat their deadline expectations
Faster more iterative testing
Always come to meetings with alternative plan if have difficulties
If something could not be done: only response is to take it down to the physics
Wrote his own public relations responses
Controlling whole product allows creation of lifestyle brand
Not a new idea. All about execution.
11 unified field theory
Solar energy market
Lack of empathy
Obsessing over typos in emails
Intuition on things u don't know isn't very good
Close to Larry page
Good ideas always sound crazy until they're not
Wonders how to raise kids without adversity
Requires more reading time than video game time
No stupid video games allowed. Only those that have physics.
Smart people need to have more kids
Frivolous lawsuits against him
Smartest programmers were in gaming industry and used Microsoft c++ libraries
Thoughts on going public vs selling private stock options
Last month I was lucky to visit the Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks for the first time. It was relaxing, educational, and fun. And I learned a thing or two from the trees.
1. Certain things have been here way longer than modern man and have survived through thick and thin; this should give our lives perspective. The giant sequoia trees I saw were literally thousands of years old. The General Sherman Tree, the largest known tree on Earth, is 2,500 years old. These trees have lived through all the major wars of history, enormous natural disasters, and huge changes in climate and civilization around them. Compared to that, what is our relative importance? What can we learn from their survival?
2. A giant sequoia comes from a tiny cone. In the picture above, the cone for the giant sequoia is the small egg-shaped one, whereas the other cones that are much bigger come from (eventually) much smaller trees like pine. This goes to show that you can't judge one's full potential from one's modest beginnings and that sometimes the biggest things come from the humblest starts.
3. Sequoias need fire to live and grow. Fire is necessary for their survival and replication. At one time firefighters stopped forest fires too early, and this harmed the tree population; now they know the importance of allowing natural fires to do their work. Fires increase the temperature of the cones that fall from the tree, which burns away the outside and activates the seedlings inside to allow reproduction.
4. Sequoias help each other out. They grow deep roots underground and share water with each other. This is how they are able to survive extremely long periods of drought.
5. People tried to cut down giant sequoias that grew for thousands of years for their wood, just to discover they weren't really usable for that purpose. How do we avoid such mistakes in the future?
Back in March, I hosted Marc Goodman at Google LA for an Authors@Google talk.
Marc is a global strategist, author and consultant focused on the disruptive impact of advancing technologies on security, business and international affairs. He discussed the his new book Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It. It was scary and eye-opening and really made me wonder about unintended impacts of exponential technologies.
I just finished reading a book that Noah Kagan recently recommended, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I heard about it on Tim Ferriss's podcast.
The book was a pretty straightforward read. I found it a bit lacking in depth and non-obvious examples. The writing was good, as were the stories, but I was looking for more of a philosophical angle. I also think the book could've been more concise. I do like the core ideas of focusing on the one biggest thing at a time, saying no to everything that you're not 200% excited about, and spending time with the family and friends that will make life meaningful as opposed to email or other non-essential things that can keep us busy.
Below are my notes and main takeaways.
1 the essentialist
Ignore everything except what is essential
Refuse all other requests and be honest
Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now? If not definitive yes then say no.
Let others handle email conversations instead of jumping in first
Stop attending meetings unless have construction
Less but better
Choosing right activities first
If you don't prioritize your life someone else will
Undisciplined pursuit of more
Explore and evaluate
Myths: I have to, it's all important, I can do both
Truths: I choose to, only a few things really matter, I can do anything but not everything
Stop straddled strategy
Choice is an action not a thing. We are always choosing.
We forget our ability to choose. Learned helplessness.
More effort doesn't always yield better results
Almost everything is nonessential
Scan environment for vital few
4 trade off
What can I go big on?
No solutions, just trade offs
If too busy to think then too busy
Solitude required for serious work
Deliberate distraction free time and space to sit and think
Space to read
Listen for what's not being said
Keep a journal
Review every 90 days at high level for patterns
Animals who play more survive better
Required for cognitive development
Protect the asset
Is this something I absolutely love and want to do or have
Only do things that are 90% right
Be very selective
Make criteria selective and explicit
Decide on essential intent
Inspirational and concrete
11 dare: power of graceful no
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing
Separate the decision from the relationship
Consistently saying no
Own the awkward pause; Count to 3
Soft no: no, but (do it later)
Let me check my calendar and get back to you
Use email bounce backs
Yes, what should I de prioritize?
You're welcome to X but I'm not willing to Y
Slow yes and quick no
12 uncommit: cut losses quickly
Beware of endowment effect and sunk cost fallacy
Pretend u don't own it yet. How much would I pay to buy this or how hard would I work to get on this project?
Cut out options
What is the limiting constraint or obstacle
17 progress: small wins
Done better than perfect
Minimal viable progress
Minimal viable preparation
Visually reward progress
18 flow and routine
19 focus: what's important now
Less but better
Very selective in hiring
The fourth selection of Half Half Man’s Book Club was Philip Fisher’s Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences. For me, it was the most difficult book to read in the book club so far; it was very academic, filled with lengthy complex arguments and philosophical references I hadn’t heard of. Even though it was the smallest in number of pages, it was the largest in my own effort required to reach minimal understanding. However, that effort was well worth it as the connections and concepts useful for magic were really interesting and new for me.
There were three themes that really stood out to me as useful for magic. The first theme is encapsulated in the quote which appears several times in the book: “Philosophy begins in wonder.” In other words, wonder (magic?) is the base for inspiration for science and thinking. The second theme is how wonder inspires a process of systematic thinking, or cyclical errors and knowledge, and this theme is closely related to Juan Tamariz’s “Method of False Solutions” from his book, The Magic Way (1), in which he too talks about the rainbow. The third theme is the power of the visual and how it’s much closer linked to wonder than memory is, and a beautiful illustration and application of this idea to magic is in the effect, “Dr. Daley’s Last Trick” (2).
Wonder (magic!) as inspiration for science
The core question the author asks is, “How do we go from being puzzled to getting something?”
As an explanation of the previous quote about “philosophy,” he says, “Wonder is first of the passions because it is the origin of intellectual life.” He refers to “the template of wonder” because “to be human is to learn.” Throughout the first part of the book, he draws numerous connections between wonder and science. Looking at the same things around us as though they were entirely new often brings discoveries.
Within these connections between wonder and science, he includes many examples of wondrous things and explicitly mentions magic, such as in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Not only can art and wonder inspire science and discovery, but also within art itself, there is similarly a big component of thinking and discovery just like in science.
He also laments that wonder declines with age and repeated exposure to beautiful things. What’s fascinating to me is that magic can keep this sense of wonder alive! In this regard, magic serves an important purpose: bringing joy and opening up people’s eyes to see the world around them fresh and ripe for (re)discovery. There are many magicians who are scientists or have worked in fields where their magic helped their science (Ed Marlo and Persi Diaconis immediately come to mind). One often thinks of magic and art as entertainment and relief from work, science, or thinking, but Philip’s book shows how in fact these more “serious” activities are often inspired and fueled by wonder (and magic!).
Wonder’s inspired process of thinking and the Method of False Solutions
The author describes through three detailed examples (the rainbow, the double of the area of a square, and the weird work of art) how an initial sense of wonder leads the viewer down a process of thinking until the “aha!” moment of “getting it.” In this sense, wonder inspires a process of thinking and discovery. In magic, we want to keep this sense of wonder alive throughout the process, and we want the audience to “get” something, but not the secret. There are thus some very interesting parallels and applications of Fisher’s concepts to magic, albeit with certain adjustments and calibrations.
Fisher describes the process of thinking as going through different phases, each with different “mixtures of knowledge” and “levels of error.” He writes how Descartes wanted each step of thinking to contain one single thought at a time, which is antagonistic to memory which distracts. Taking these careful steps (such as in a geometry proof) leads to explanation and demystification and sometimes a sense of wonder at the final solution. But because the feeling of “getting it” is so unique, the wondrous experience can only occur the same way once (the first time only).
As I read all this, I kept thinking about Tamariz’s Method of False Solutions. In The Magic Way, Tamariz introduces “the magician’s objective” as rendering the spectator “incapable of figuring out any solution” and ideally “not even wanting to figure it out due to the wonder and joy produced by the feeling in the magic rainbow.” He wants to make all solutions rejected as impossible, and he advocates the use of subtlety to cut off paths toward unreal solutions. He teaches how magicians can create false solutions that lead to impossible structures that are rejected right away, and how psychology, technique, and misdirection protect the secret
It’s clear that Tamariz agrees with Fisher about the sanctity of the feeling of wonder as well as the critical intellectual link between wonder and trying to explain what one sees. Tamariz acutely recognizes how automatically we try to invent solutions, and he feeds that natural process with false solutions that must be eventually rejected. However, instead of leaving the spectator frustrated, he wants the overall effect to be so enjoyable that not finding a solution in this case makes the spectator happy (and maybe even inspired to seek the impossible in his or her own life).
Use the visual, instead of memory, to build conviction
Towards the end of the book, Fisher describes how important the visual is to the sense of wonder. He says the visual provides something that memory and narrative cannot: simultaneous intuition or seeing of a whole (instead of bit by bit). The simultaneity and deep intuition lead to the strong relation of the visual to certainty. Fisher explains how the “visual plays a critical part in securing certainty that memory cannot.” He even describes the conceptual moment of “intuition as the visual moment of seeing.” This sort of simultaneous intuition is only possible with something visual.
This provides a critical lesson and practical application (for magic) of the concepts of wonder that Fisher has been developing. The strong sense of certainty and conviction that can be created with the visual is clearly illustrated in Daley's Last Trick.
In this transposition effect, the magician clearly shows four of a kind, such as the Aces. He displays the first one (such as the Ace of Hearts) and places it face down on the spectator’s palm. He then displays the next one of the same color (such as the Ace of Diamonds) and places it face down on the spectator’s palm as well, except this time under the other card that’s on the palm, pointing out this fact to the spectator and even leaving this new card underneath sticking out. He makes a magical gesture and asks the spectator where the Ace of Diamonds is. The spectator, with full certainty, responds that it’s the card underneath resting on her palm. When the spectator flips over that card, she is shocked to see that it’s the Ace of Spades, and the card on top of it is the Ace of Clubs. The magician reveals the Ace of Hearts and Ace of Diamonds in his hand.
This effect uses the power of the visual in multiple ways to strengthen conviction:
And finally, it uses the visual to create a moment of wonder via an element of surprise: The spectator is expecting to see the Ace of Diamonds when flipping over the card underneath (or at worst an Ace of Hearts if she was “fooled”), but instead she sees a black card, which is completely unexpected and magical. This difference in color is seen immediately and registers a strong emotion of surprise because of the strong visual difference.
The lessons about the power of the visual from Fisher’s book and this effect can be applied to make other effects stronger. It’s much better to show than to tell when trying to build conviction. Use less words and rely less on the spectator’s memory and instead use the visual to establish the starting conditions and to demonstrate the magical change.
The fourth selection of Half Half Man’s Book Club was difficult but worth it. The themes of scientific inspiration, thinking process leading to solutions, and the power of the visual have many applications to magic. In his book, Fisher discounts magician’s tricks and connects them with “astonishment,” a lower class emotion than wonder: “Astonishment avoids the intellectual and scientific; it is the pleasure we take in the face of magician's tricks. It never leads to explanation or even to thought. Astonishment is a technique for the enjoyment of the state of not knowing how or why.” While astonishment is useful for entertainment, I believe that truly strong magic can break through this ceiling and reach the level of wonder while still preventing the audience from finding any explanation (and being ok with not seeking one).
1. Juan Tamariz. The Magic Way. 1988.
I've been going through Dan Ariely's books pretty much in reverse order, and I just finished reading the last one to complete my collection: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.
I could see in this book many of the seeds of ideas that he would expand on in subsequent books, such as about dishonesty and the irrationality of too many options. I enjoyed his description of the experiments, and I liked how each chapter went through one major source of irrationality and how it can be used to predictably influence people (reminds me of Cialdini and Munger). Below are my notes on this one.
Quick fast pain better than slow low pain? His research showed no for bandage removal.
Science as area where anyone can come up with alternative theory and empirical test to check it
Humans rarely choose on absolute terms
We compare what is easily comparable but don't compare what is hard to compare
We like to make decisions based on what we understand
Put in option which is less attractive to increase attractiveness of base option
Can change our focus and circles we go in to change what we compare to
Change the frame of relativity
The more we have the more we want
2 fallacy of supply and demand
To make man want something, make it difficult to obtain
Imprinting of first impression
First decisions translate into long term habits
Herding and self herding
3 cost of zero cost: why we pay too much whn we pay nothing
Zero is source of irrational excitement
Big difference between zero and tiny
4 cost of social norms: offers of direct payment kills social norms
Two separate worlds: market and social
Can't mix social and market norms
Ppl work more for cause than for cash
Don't mention prices in relationships
Money most expensive way to motivate people
5 influence of arousal
People react and predict very differently when calm and cool than when aroused
6 problem of procrastination and self control
Use rules to impose personal control
7 high price of ownership: why we overvalue what we have
We focus more on what we will lose than gain
We expect buyer to see same perspective as we
View transactions as nonowner
8 keeping doors open: why options distract us from our main objective
Irrational compulsion to keep options open in life even when worse for us
Consider time wasted while trying to make decision or keeping doors open
9 effect of expectations: why mind gets what it expects
See events as u want to
Dish names affect taste
Presentation affects taste
10 power of price
Power of suggestion
Belief and Conditioning
Price changes experience
What u pay is what u get
11 context of our character: why we are dishonest
Honest ppl cheat 10% even if can cheat more with no risk
Just reminding people about morals or just to recall them made them more honest
Decline in professionalism
Signing name to oath
12 context of our character: why dealing with cash makes us more honest
People take items more readily than taking cash
Easier to cheat when one step removed from money
When medium of exchange is nonmonetary then it is easier to rationalize
Dealing with cash is like being primed by honor code
13 beer and free lunches
When u order first u r happier than if listen to others order before u
Behavioral economics and irrationality imply there are free lunches
I really enjoyed Dan Ariely's last two books, so I decided to read his latest which just recently came out, Irrationally Yours: On Missing Socks, Pickup Lines, and Other Existential Puzzles. This one was a very short, fun read made up of Dan's answers to reader questions in his weekly Wall Street Journal column. It was a good mix of behavioral economics/psychology combined with a nice dose of his Jewish sense of humor. I most enjoyed his discussions of memory and deception as well as his suggestions to use more rules to curtail temptations and keep you disciplined.
Studying social behavior
Escalation of commitments
Art and joy of saying no
When get request assume it is for next week. Would u cancel for it?
If have to cancel another activity for it, would u?
Cancel elation: would u feel happy if it got canceled?
Think of it as museum
Present focus bias
Hard to separate self into eater and noneater
Avoid exposing self to bad foods
Replace foods at home
Religious rules to dieting
Forgotten and forgiven loans
Loaner to bring it up and clarify
Social networks and norms
People paying for the story
Give gift u don't enjoy shopping for as signal
Variety as memory enhancement
Break up week into series of separate experiences
Benefits of crowded places for dates
Misattribution of emotions
Hiring good and free advisor
What advice would give best friend in that situation
More likely to help when request is specific
Saying sorry always helps
People think usually only 1 step ahead in game
Gossip as social coordination mechanism
To participate more fully in conversations
Marriage changes ur view of ur own relationship and long term thinking
Ruminating while running
Joy of getting things done
Hard to find joy when can't fully complete a big project at once
Potential to make something new perfect increases motivation
Pick projects that are self contained
Toasts and superstition
Low cost to ritual vs big cost to not following
Compliments make people happier
Illusion of labor
Think time is wasted when don't see progress
Take joy from seeing someone work hard for us even if it takes longer
Make clear to others how hard u work
Misery of flying
Think of marvel of flight
Evidence of common humanity
Wearing clothes from different culture prevents PPl thinking ur too casual
Exploring the unknown
Loss aversion makes us not try something new
Trying out relationships
Carry out experiments in similar situation
Spend 2 weeks with girlfriend's mother
2 good experiences: pleasures and comforts
Give up comforts and seek pleasure
Imagine paying them monthly from ur checking account
Sharing food with squirrels
Internet social activity
Expectations and hiring
Dating: knowing more about someone leads to less love
CEOs hired from outside get paid more because don't know as much about them
Learning better decisions
Create good habits
Delegate difficult decisions to rules and habits
Power of expectations
Don't over heighten expectations
Don't exaggerate by too much; 10% ok
Call mother at night
Increase likelihood gift is used
Swap in gift for old ones so it's used
Eating lessons and kids
Maximizer should eat better food first
Avoiding minimum type should first eat worse food then better one after
Think of reason someone is complaining and make most of it
Prices and bidding frenzy
Auctions: starting perspective vs competition
Initial asking price affects expectations
Stress and caring for old
Luck as multiple stage number game
Luckier people try things more often
In life decisions are not binary and involve multiple stages
Life is a numbers game
Cut options that aren't working
Socks and supernatural
Overcounting of missing socks
Involves how our memory works
Giving money away leads to happiness
Have specific rules
Websites creating alibis
Comparing what could've been in imagined world
When don't imagine world then feel better
Night time activities
Problem of coordination
Suboptimal default option
Sequential coordination instead
Draw random activity per night
Move in for week with friends who have kids
Take care of kids of different age groups
Set limit on spending
Traffic jam altruism
Issues of control and credit/gratitude
Annoying irrationally to ppl
Forcing decisions with coins
Opportunity cost of time
Spinning coin forces us to decide which one we really want
Changing social norms
Relentlessly critique violators
Create new social norm
Effects cumulative and delayed
Adventures and investments
Life is about learning and improving where can become a different and better person
Honesty on vacation
Paying food bill
Better for one person to pay and alternate to increase good feelings of free meal
Fewer new experiences as age
Showing off price
Accumulating pleasure and pain
How to combine experiences
Extreme vs average approach
Pay attention to joyful part of each experience
Lack of self control
Depletion after full day
Ability to resist urges depletes like muscle
Odysseus with sirens tied to mast with strict rule
Keep tempting food out of house
Balancing and rule of three
Wasting time deciding
Limit time spent deciding group activity
Set up default activity if can't decide
Asking right questions
Ask the stupid questions
Donuts and locus of free will
We can design our environment to help overcome our weaknesses
Most optimistic day
New year resolutions wishful thinking
Hot cold empathy gap
Set up rules that prevent emotional decisions
Don't look at portfolio often
Limit our ability to make decisions
Commuting and adaptation
Uncertainty makes adapting to traffic difficult
Different emotional states when making decision vs having experience
Joy from developing in career
Invention of titles
Gamification for employees
Identifiable victim effect
Care more when see the victim vs when have psychological distance
Other job switching
Volunteer at other company for a while to see if like it during vacation
Moving or not
Endowment effect of current situation as reference point
Status quo bias: staying in same place is actually a decision
Frame move as 6 month trial
Hard to communicate
Curse of knowledge
Fun and self control
Shrinking and self deception
High heel attractiveness
Rules to overcome negative signals
Taxes and mitzvahs
Think of how much u made instead
How much giving to others
Duty and privilege
Loss aversion and sports
Bad at predicting emotional response to losses
Enjoying process more important than final outcome
I just finished reading Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared M. Diamond, and I must admit it was quite a slog. The book is long, detailed, and not too entertaining.
It was recommended by Charles Munger in his Almanack, and I had heard about it many times before. The book's core question is indeed an interesting one: Why did some countries and societies develop so much more than others, conquering others and creating better life for their people? Is it due to racial differences or something else?
The book is #1 on Amazon in the category of "geography," and I think that was part of the slog of reading it; the extremely detailed info on the history, environment, and topography of all the different parts of the Earth was just less compelling to read as so many of the sub-points and background were not well connected to the main question in the book. The most interesting parts for me were the beginning and the end, which basically answer the question by saying that the differing environments and natural resources of the continents as well as the different societal organizational structures contributed to different levels of diffusion, migration, and technology development that allowed some societies to prosper more than others.
I did enjoy the discussion of how languages built on top of one another and how writing systems played a big role in societal development. It was obvious to me from the start how guns and steel would be useful for societies, but all the stuff about germs, food production, and animal domestication was a lot less obvious to from the start and was interesting to learn (though way too detailed and at times off topic for my taste).
Below are some of my notes and takeaways from the different chapters. If you really love history and geography as well as archaeology or the science of researching the past, this book is a good one for you. If not, I wouldn't recommend it.
Differences between lifestyles in societies
Why did wealth and power become distributed as they are now?
Different rates of development
Europeans ended up with guns, the worst germs, and steel tools
Diversity in New Guinea; 6,000 human languages and 1,000 of them in New Guinea
1 head start
New Guinea would've seemed to have gotten head start
2 a natural experiment
Polynesian history provides good test of development
Ability to write
Part 2 the rise of food production
4 farmer power
Prerequisite for production of guns, germs, and steel
5 haves and have nots
Different resources and starting habits
6 to farm or not to farm
7 how to make an almond
Plants adapt to animals that eat them
8 apples or Indians
Fertile Crescent had better variety of plants and environment
9 domesticable animals
Need many factors like diet and character to work out for an animal to be domesticated for food production and hunting
10 spacious skies and tilted axes
Axis orientations of continents affected food production and resources
Part 3 from food to guns germs and steel
11 lethal gift of livestock
Germs from animals and people
12 blueprints and borrowed letters
Writing transmits knowledge
Borrowing writing systems
13 necessity mother
14 egalitarianism to kleptocracy
Religion supports politicians
Food production makes complex societies possible
Part 4 around the world
Ch 15 Australia and New Guinea
Less cultural change
16 how china became Chinese
Outrigger canoe allowed travel over waves
18 hemispheres colliding
European discovery of America
Food production tech and tools allowed Europeans to sail
Big domesticated animals in europe
More germs in europe from crowded living created immunities
Metal tool use much more in europe
More use of writing in europe
Organization into states in europe
19 how Africa became black
Language families show origins of people and their travel around world
Differences in societies due to differing environments
Diffusion and migration
About Max Mednik
Max is an avid entrepreneur, engineer, and student of life. He is a Google software engineer and a founder of AMA Capital. He graduated from Stanford and UCLA Anderson. He lives in Los Angeles with his family and spends his free time enjoying his many hobbies and interests.