Moontower's Favorite Posts By Others

This is a giant work-in-progress. I'll add to it as I revisit posts that were meaningful. The posts are scattered through my files and workspaces.
Jesse Livermore Bangers
  • Jesse Livermore's Upside Down Markets (Link)
  • Jesse Livermore's Profit Margins Don’t Matter: Ignore Them, and Focus on ROEs Instead (Link)
The Curse of the Reserve Currency
  • Phenomenal World's The Class Politics Of The Dollar System (Link)
  • Michael Pettis’ Changing the Top Global Currency Means Changing the Patterns of Global Trade (Link)
Trying Too Hard
  • Speech by Dean Williams (Link)
YIMBY Paradoxes
  • Steve Randy Waldman's Home Is Where The Cartel Is (Link)
Excerpts from “Breaking Smart”
  • Venkat Rao's Breaking Smart (Link)
Markets Will Permanently Reset Higher (My Sacrifice to the Delta Gods)
Trade-Offs In Tax Policy
OSAM Deconstructs Factors From Scratch
  • Chris Meredith, Jesse Livermore, Patrick O’Shaughnessy's Factors From Scratch (Link)
Minsky Moments in Venture Capital by Abraham Thomas
Paradox of high prices is they imply low risk which further attracts more inflows.
The key idea of Minsky cycles isn't that rising prices attract capital; that's just standard trend dynamics. The key Minsky idea is that increasing capital inflows reduce perceived risk.
This is the Minsky boom. Money entering a market boosts returns and reduces volatility, leading to very strong (realized) performance. This attracts more money, which improves performance even more. A positive feedback loop ensues.
And this is perfectly legit! Economies can and do reallocate resources all the time. This is how it works; this is how it’s expected to work.
The problem with feedback loops is that they tend to overshoot.
True Risk vs Measured Risk
One way to understand Minsky cycles is that they’re driven by the gap between ‘measured risk’ and ‘true risk’.
When you lend money, the ‘true risk’ you take is that the borrower defaults3. But you can’t know this directly; instead you measure it by proxy, using credit spreads. Credit spreads reflect default probabilities, but they also reflect investor demand for credit products. A subprime credit trading at a tight spread doesn’t necessarily imply that subprime loans have become less risky (though that could be true); the tight spread may also be driven by demand for subprime loans. Measured risk has deviated from true risk.
Similarly, when you invest in a startup, the ‘true risk’ that you take is that the startup fails. But you can’t know this directly; instead you measure it by proxy, using markups. Markups reflect inverse failure probabilities (the higher and faster the markup, the more successful the company, and hence the less likely it is to fail — at least, so one hopes). But markups also reflect investor demand for startup equity. Once again, measured risk has deviated from true risk.
During Minsky booms, measured risks decline. During Minsky busts, measured risks increase. The flip from boom to bust occurs when the market realizes that true risks haven’t gone away.

The Destination, Not The Journey

So now let’s rephrase the question. Has the true risk of venture investments changed? More rigorously:
Does the compression of timelines in venture change the distribution of terminal outcomes for venture-backed companies?
On that question, the jury is still out. It’s not obvious to me that accelerated markups change the power-law dynamics of venture portfolios. Markups change the journey of a business, but do they change the destination?
If the answer is yes, then there’s no Minsky dynamic at play; what we’re seeing is a rational evolution of the venture industry. Maybe startups are truly less risky now; maybe the market truly has matured. More capital, lower returns, safer investments4.
If the answer is no, then venture is very possibly in a Minsky boom, and we’re just waiting for the moment when it turns into a Minsky bust.
“Incentives to produce” are incentives to rig the game by Interfluidity
This essay contends that the cost of mitigating inequality is likely small compared to its benefit. Rent-seeking behavior is inevitable but incentive to capture rents or grift is stronger if the potential prize is bigger (I'm not so sure that any reasonably capitalistic society would escape this problem at any level of naturally occurring inequality — something we must live with anyway as a consequence of humans’ endemic differences which we happily agree to entertain when we reject communism)
  • Starts with allusion to the ever present efficiency vs equity tradeoff: Reducing rewards to those at the top of the wealth/income distribution might blunt their incentives to produce. But the cost of that might be offset by utilitarian benefits of transfers to the less well off...But at current margins, I suspect there is no tradeoff. There might be a tradeoff in measured GDP, but GDP happily tallies economic coercion and rent-capture along with genuinely productive activity...Causing a disease and then expensively treating it does not in fact make the world richer. But it may well inspire economic activity — the mass production of a new drug, visits to doctors, extra hours people choose to work in order to afford the treatment, etc. In aggregate, we work harder just to stay in place. But the distributional effects of the operation are very real.
  • Rent capture increases as a natural defense to technology’s unseating effects: We should expect the prevalence of rent capture (or worse) as a source of economic profit to increase with technological progress. Why? Because, absent chicanery, technology increases the ease of production and the efficiency of distribution. As Schumpeter pointed out, the source of profit in real-life capitalism is the fact that monopoly power is ubiquitous because of natural barriers to competition...Technological progress renders moats that derive from nature harder to come by. Instead, successful businesses — and successful people (since under capitalism, a human is just a small business) — must rely increasingly on moats that result from social and political arrangements....The distribution of profits is determined by social choices rather than by natural scarcities.
  • This is not necessarily wrong but if you care about social cohesion it's problematic because it creates incentives to side with the winners....But the distribution of affluence is less and less a matter of direct attachment to production, and more and more a function of winning social games and political contests that determine to whom the fruits of production will be allocated. There’s no conspiracy in that. Nor is it an answer to say “capital” now determines who enjoys wealth. As technology improves, capital goods become mere commodities like everything else. Financial capital, whatever it is, is not an input into any material production process. It is a construct and artifact of a huge and ever-changing array of social and legal institutions. “Human capital”, “social capital”, and “organizational capital” are things we impute ex-post to winners of distributional contests as explanations of observed returns. They do not straightforwardly exist in the world...high dispersion of outcome creates a strong incentives to be on the side of winners.
  • This incentive creates inefficiency: a well ordered society depends upon people sometimes making choices opposed to their material interests on ethical or other grounds. Then it is obvious how inequality might be costly. Instead of talking about “incentives to” (produce, extract rents, whatever), we might describe outcome dispersion as a tax on refraining from mercenary behavior. If the difference between economic winners and losers is modest, people of ordinary virtue might refrain from participating in activities they consider corrupt, might even be willing to “blow the whistle”, because the cost of doing so is outweighed by their preference for behaving well. But as outcome dispersion grows, absenting oneself from or even opposing activities that would be personally remunerative but socially undesirable becomes too costly.
  • Moloch equilibrium: Wouldn’t it be odd to live in a country where, say, bankers individually acknowledge that their industry often behaves destructively, where insiders perceptively describe the conditions that create incentives for people to take bad risks or fleece “muppets“, but continue to work in those places and do nothing about it? Wouldn’t it be odd to live in a country where doctors privately apologize for the way their services are “priced“, but nevertheless take home their paychecks and pay AMA dues? Or in a country where economics instructors teach agency costs using textbook pricing as a case study, during a course for which students are required to purchase a $180 textbook?... In all of these cases, there really isn’t anything any one individual can do to remedy the bad practices. Making a big issue of them would lead to useless excommunication. Instead we shrug ironically. In our society, an ironic attitude is a token of sophistication (a telling word, which once meant corruption but now implies competence). An ironic attitude towards collective ethics is adaptive. It helps basically decent individuals participate in coalitions that ruthlessly contend for rents. But perhaps we’d have a better society if, rather than turning our ethical discomfort into an object of aesthetic consideration, lots of us worked straightforwardly to remedy it. And perhaps more of us would do so if the risk of losing our place were not so terrible. Ethical behavior is endogenous. “Inequality” renders it costly.
On the Floor Laughing: Traders Are Having a New Kind of Fun by James Somers
  • The upshot is that there is a lot of energy on a trading floor. Go to a law firm, Silicon Valley startup, magazine, or corporate headquarters. Even if what they do there shakes the world, even if the staff practically sneezes vibrant creativity, still you can't escape that Office-y undercurrent, the unmistakable intimation of malaise you find wherever adults are stuck inside doing their homework. This place, on the other hand, feels like something closer to an active battleship.
  • The more I watch, the more I think I understand the peculiar grip this place has on him -- and, for that matter, the peculiar grip it seems to have on me. From the minute I walked in here I've been sort of dazzled. I've felt almost exactly like I did when I was first invited as a nine or ten year-old into the cockpit of a commercial airliner. There is just something undeniably cool and complicated and a little bit spectacular about both places, each in its own way the frenetic nexus of an intricate machine. It looks fun, basically -- in the one case because you get to fly a plane, and in the other because people take you seriously and pay you lots of money and yet what you do all day is qualitatively equivalent to playing a video game. If that sounds a bit silly, consider for a moment what makes a game a game. The trick seems to be that games are constrained in a way that the real world isn't: there is a board, field, pitch, court, area, table, ring or other enclosure that bounds the action in space; clocks that bound it in time; and rules that restrict the space of allowable moves. In some ways those constraints are what make games mentally satisfying, because they relieve us of what existentialists called "the anxiety of freedom." By giving us obvious, well-defined goals, they save us from having to define success; and with points, leaderboards, heads-up displays, indicators, badges, etc., they tell us exactly when we've achieved it. Humans crave that kind of structure, probably because we get so little of it in real life. It's a lot harder to say whether you "have a healthy romantic relationship" or "are making a lasting contribution to something bigger than yourself" than that you've "lined up the yellow gemstones," "scored more points than the other team in twenty minutes," or "collected forty pounds of silver."
The Origin Of Wealth Book Summary by Taylor Pearson
  • Intro
Traditional neoclassical economics tends to use tools that require it to look at the economy as a static, equilibrium-seeking thing – something akin to a factory or machine. Complexity economics, an outgrowth of complexity science, instead tends to view the economy more like a biological system.
In The Origin of Wealth, Eric Beinhocker introduces complexity economics and argues that “wealth creation is the product of a simple, but profoundly powerful, three-step formula—differentiate, select, and amplify—the formula of evolution”
and “the same process that led to an explosion of species diversity in the Cambrian period led to an explosion in SKU diversity during the Industrial Revolution.”
Evolution is an algorithm for innovation searching the “fitness landscape” of a given system. This could be an ecosystem as in biological evolution or the economy. The environment creates a design space and then selection (natural or otherwise) tests all the configurations in that design space over time and evolves with it.
Seeing Sociopaths
  • Alex Danco’s The Michael Scott Theory of Social Class (Link)
  • Michael Church’s 3-Ladder System Of Social Class In The US (Link)
  • Meaningness' Geeks, MOPs, and Sociopaths in Subculture Evolution (Link)
  • Venkatesh Rao’s The Gervais Principle (Link)
Working for Free
  • Jonathan Bales' Should You Work For Free? (Link)
The Antidote To Abstraction
  • Charles Eisenstein’s The Age Of We Need Each Other (Link) (Highlights)
When Smart People Have Bad Ideas
Borders Are Subjective
  • Slatestar's The Categories Were Made For Man, Not Man For The Categories (Link) (Highlights)
When Equality Is Cruel
The Egg by Andy Weir
  • Andy Weir's The Egg (Link)
The Zeroth Commandment
Deceiving Your Kids
  • Paul Graham's Lies We Tell Our Kids (Link)
The Magic for Making Quantum Leaps
  • Autotranslucence Becoming A Magician (Link)
Twitter Doesn’t Kill People.
  • Venkat Rao's Against Waldenponding (Link)
Which Principles Are Ok To Bribe?
On Grit
Venkat Rao's Calculus of Grit (Link)
Unpacking The Beauty Of A deBoer Book Review
Freddie deBoer's Review: Ross Douthat's The Deep Places (Link)
Keepsakes From Slatestar’s Fake Graduation Speech
Notes on Moloch
Slatestar's Meditations on Moloch (Link)
The Psychedelic Trojan Horse
My highlights here
  • My quick takes:
    • Greed always brings the sociopaths who force Moloch on us
    • The narrow interpretations of science (scientism?) is a “not everything that can be measured matters, and not everything that matters can be measured” problem
    • Quote: The sacred is not there to make our lives better. It is not there to confirm our warped ideologies. It is there to shred us. It guides us to the depths of ourselves to find our own delusions and dispel them. Psychedelics were originally called ‘psychotomimetics’, because they were thought to temporarily induce insanity. It may be that going temporarily mad is the only way to see how mad we already are.
    • I kept coming up against a paradox. It haunted me for months, and goes something like this: psychedelics can change our minds, but only if we’ve already changed our minds. They can transform culture, but only if culture has already been transformed. The real issue isn’t psychedelic capitalism, but the culture that selects for it. In the grips of a meaning crisis, consumer culture is adrift, purposeless, disconnected. The role religion used to play has been filled by alternatives that aren’t designed to fill its shoes. Wellness culture asks us to be well but doesn’t explain what we’re being well for. Tech utopianism bypasses the pain of existence by fantasising about transcendence. We can’t mix and match indigenous frameworks unless we come to terms with the indigenous narcissism of Western psychology. New Age thinking is a mess of self-deception and wish fulfillment. The religion of psychotherapy might bring us some peace, but it doesn’t give us an ontology. Scientific reductionism can measure our pain, but can’t help us to feel it and live with it.
Epistemic Learned Helplessness by Slatestarcodex
Nihilist Nation by Garret Keizer
  • Arguing with a nihilist is like intimidating a suicide bomber: The usual threats and enticement have no effect. I suspect that is part of the appeal for both: the facile transcendence of placing oneself beyond all powers of persuasion. A nihilist is above you and your persnickety arguments in the same way that Trump fancies himself above the law.
  • If a Protestant ethic will make workers go more obediently into the factories, then capitalism will extol the Protestant ethic; but if blasphemy begins to move merchandise at the mall, then it will blaspheme to the point of making Beelzebub blush. If democracy furthers profit, then long live democracy; if democracy impedes profit, then long live Citizens United and private security forces flown in to beat back the disaster-riled mobs. In the capitalist bible, profit and loss always trump the Law and the Prophets.
  • If there are no “grand narratives,” no self-evident truths, no straightforward texts, no criteria for determining artistic merit, then there is surely nothing to stop us from deconstructing such obsolete products as The New York Times and the Bill of Rights—or even, as so many academics seem obtusely unable to grasp, to deconstruct the self-evident merits of “diversity” itself? If you preach iconoclasm while dedicating a rainbow-colored stained-glass window, you shouldn’t be too surprised if somebody picks up a rock.
  • Some will object that few people sporting a Make America Great Again baseball cap are going to have read postmodernist theory, so any claim of a cause-and-effect relationship here is ludicrous. No, the objection is ludicrous. It is like saying that a seabird cannot show up on a beach covered in petroleum since a seabird is obviously not an oil tanker. Culture is a highly permeable ecosystem. Mike Pence was influenced by Lady Gaga even if he couldn’t pick her out of a lineup.
  • Steve Jobs’s claim of having “put a ding in the universe.” When the universe itself is fair game for dinging, can nihilism be far behind?
  • This is where primal emotions and capitalist dynamism meet: in the moral deadening that comes of having few significant choices and infinite trivial ones.
  • The same temptation can occur in less momentous deflations, whenever insincerity peeks from under a euphemism—whenever the “guest” turns out to be a customer. And it may be especially tempting when a culture suspicious of moral imperatives replaces them with the notion that sincerity is the highest virtue and hypocrisy the gravest fault.
  • The corollary for the least capable statesmen is only too clear: In a moral universe where good and evil have been reduced to sincerity and hypocrisy, Donald Trump (the liar who believes his own lies) will always play the honest angel to Ben Franklin’s duplicitous imp.
  • American nihilism is an oozing sore, but like an oozing sore it is evidence both of a malady and of a body’s desperate attempt to heal itself.
Book Review: San Fransicko by Slatestarcodex
Enjoyed watching Slatestar’s mind work thru the claims. Just some excerpts I liked, just a matter of personal taste in the writing.
  • It makes enough different claims to leave the reader feeling kind of overwhelmed. If the claims are true, then the book is great and important. If they’re false, it’s bad and damaging. I felt that the fairest way to review this book was to meet it on its own terms with deep dives into ten of its key claims.
  • Overall, I’m disappointed in most of the published research on this question, which seems more interested in producing glossy brochures about funding disparities than in informing anybody what any of their numbers mean.
  • Still, everyone is sure that the reason there are still homeless people must be that some Housing First opponent still exists somewhere, ruining everything with their purity-testing ways. But actually these people have already been relegated to the conservative think tanks where moribund ideas go to die.
  • San Fransicko  is right to call out all the people promoting it beyond what the evidence supports, but then goes on to attack it beyond what the evidence supports.
  • Its claim that it saw increased drug use depends on your definition, but is misleading and not the most natural way to sum up the evidence.
  • How suspicious should we be of each type of story? There will always be an extreme right tail of overly harsh sentences, and an extreme left tail of overly lenient ones. Were the 2000s really as draconian as they felt? Is the modern era really as pathetic? Or is it all just a function of who you read and what agenda they’re pushing?
  • Maybe a better argument against this being true is how stable the shoplifting rates have been over time. Wouldn’t it be weird if (let’s say) a tripling of the real shoplifting rates was matched by a third-ing of the reporting rates (rather than a halving or a quartering or whatever)?
  • I accept that the data don’t consistently show a spike in shoplifting. But what’s the alternative? My patient who works in loss prevention in SF stores is lying to me? The nice elderly Chinese man who sold me my last pair of glasses and chatted to me about the rampant shoplifting in his mall was lying? The San Francisco police are lying? Walgreens pretends to be concerned about shoplifting as part of a dastardly plot to close a bunch of stores for no reason? Target and CVS pretend to care about shoplifting as part of a plot to restrict their stores’ opening hours for no reason? Every big store near me has suddenly gotten a security guard at the front as part of some corporate-sponsored jobs program?
  • Maybe the conservative narrative that soft-on-crime San Francisco must be experiencing rising crime rates took on a life of its own. Maybe it infiltrated not just the usual suspects like the SF police unions, but even such supposedly-liberal bastions as the New York Times. Maybe lots of big corporations took advantage of the fake narrative to make unpopular business decisions they were planning on making anyway. And maybe ordinary San Franciscans, confronted with everyone telling them they were in a shoplifting epidemic, started paying more attention to security guards and petty criminals who had always been there, a sort of mass hallucination that gripped everyone in the city. I can’t rule this out. Americans thought crime was rising all throughout the early 2000s, when it was in fact way down. Or maybe some statistics that we already know are off by several orders of magnitude got off by an additional factor of two or so. I think this one is more likely, but I’m genuinely not sure.
  • If they do it with perfect rationalist virtue, it tends to look like a long list of contradictory studies and statistics. The media says “every human being who has ever lived except for Hitler agrees that Housing First solves all problems!” Suppose you write a book saying something like “actually, five studies say Housing First had a small positive effect on this problem, three studies say it had a small negative effect, and two studies say it was neutral”. The average citizen reads the media and concludes Housing First is perfect and amazing, then reads you and concludes that something something studies whatever. In the end they settle on something like “it’s perfect and amazing, but there’s some kind of asterisk after this and maybe more studies are needed”. If you want to actually shake them out of the propaganda, you need to go further and declare confidently that Housing First is actually bad. Michael Shellenberger does this, and in a moment I’ll blame him, but I want to stress that he’s less bad than the mainstream media he’s criticizing. He is taking swings at an omnipresent orthodoxy of creepily consistent spin and bias, while also sometimes stretching the truth himself. So now, having given all those caveats - this book is not a good guide to the truth on complicated social science questions. It avoids actual lies, while presenting one side of a two-sided case, sometimes so much so that I feel comfortable characterizing it as misrepresentation. As long as there are two scientists in the world who agree with San Fransicko, it’s “Here’s what scientists say…”. If there is one statistic that supports a point and five that oppose it, you can guess which one the book brings up.
  • I still feel conflicted on this without really being able to verbalize why. Maybe something like: these are profound psychological truths, but their failure mode is to be reduced to preachiness and haranguing. And in a book called San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities, there’s almost no way not to have them sound like preachiness and haranguing. It’s like how calling out injustice and highlighting the cruelty of those who ignore the less fortunate is all nice and well when Victor Hugo does it - but if the book is by Rachel Maddow, I am just going to skip those parts.
  • I’m even more torn on the other civil rights question the book confronts, whether homeless people who don’t like shelters should be allowed to camp in tents. The libertarian reluctance to provide free health care has a very understandable justification: it wasn’t the government or the taxpayers who made you sick, so they have no obligation to make you healthy again. But ten thousand years ago , before there were governments or private property at all, anyone could sleep wherever they wanted, without having to work forty hour weeks to pay money to landlords, or limiting themselves to a few shelters. If the government bans people from sleeping on land, that’s making them worse than if the government didn’t exist at all; it’s a violation of their pre-existing rights. Some amount of this is unavoidable if you accept private property. But the idea that people can’t be anywhere at all, and must agree to be warehoused in a crowded and unpleasant shelter, seems like another, much higher level of imposition. The way I cut through both these problems is to have a high tolerance for people doing what they want, but a low tolerance for them impinging on the rights of others. I’m fine with a compromise where people can camp on public land, but if they start harassing people or piling up trash, the government can take action. This probably means Shellenberger and I agree on most real-world cases, but I remain invested in the tiny sliver of moral difference between our positions.
  • The average person isn’t victimized by crime very often. There are about 1000 robberies a year in San Francisco (I think this is like mugging?), and another 1000 assaults. There are about 7000 homeless people - not all of them are criminals or addicts, but presumably there are a lot of criminals/addicts with houses, so let’s say a total of 20,000 people in this group. For the sake of argument, stricter policies will make half of them find God, and the other half will need to be forced into shelters/prisons/hospitals. And for the sake of argument, let’s say this ends all violent crime in San Francisco. You’d be institutionalizing 10,000 people a year, to prevent 2000 violent crimes a year. Even accepting that violent crimes are traumatizing and really bad, this doesn’t seem very utilitarian - being the victim of a violent crime would have to be 5x as bad as being forced to spend a year in an institution.
  • Maybe this is thinking about it wrong. Being in crime-filled scary ghettos really negatively affects people’s quality of life. If “cleaning up the city” removed half of the quality-of-life difference between poor neighborhoods and rich neighborhoods, that would be a really big deal for a lot of poor people. I think this would matter a lot - that most of the damage from urban dysfunction isn’t overt crime. It’s litter, graffiti, literal broken windows, parks that smell like marijuana and are strewn with used needles. People blasting loud music in public places or residential streets at all hours of the night. People staying away from mass transit transportation or public parks or any public spaces at all because they know they’ll be yelled at and harassed or just have to deal with a low-grade miasma of disgust over everything, preventing a real Jane-Jacobs-style civic life from ever taking shape. Class segregation, because anyone who can get out of the dysfunctional areas is desperate to do that. The fall of civic pride, because cities get hard to be proud of. If there are 100,000 San Franciscans who live in bad areas, and “cleaning up the cities” improved their quality of life 10%, and institutionalization lowers 10,000 people’s quality of life by 50%, that could . . . potentially work out? (I think the big assumption here that worries me the most is that homeless/hardened criminals/addicts are responsible for most of the noise/litter/graffiti/minor crime/quality-of-life decrease, as opposed to just ordinary people who are jerks. I’m not sure how much institutionalizing the worst 10,000 people would or wouldn’t improve the inner cities.)
Everything in Your Fridge Causes and Prevents Cancer by David Epstein
It wasn’t every sauna enthusiast who reaped the supposed protective effect against dementia; it was specifically those who used a sauna 9-12 times a month. Sauna bathers who hit the wooden bench 5-8 times a month — sorry, no effect. And those who went more than 12 times a month — again, no luck.
That should raise a caution flag in your head. When only a very specific subpopulation in a study experiences a benefit, it may indeed be that there is some extremely nuanced sweet spot. But it is more likely that the researchers collected a lot of data, which in turn allowed them to analyze many different correlations between sauna use and dementia; the more different analyses they can do, the more likely some of those analyses will generate false positives, just by statistical chance. And then, of course, those titillating positive results are the ones that end up at the top of the paper, and in the press release.
Here’s the point I want to hammer home: when you see a tantalizing health headline — like that saunas prevent dementia — keep an eye out for indications that the effect only applies to specific subgroups of the study population. Even if the headline is very authoritative, revealing nuggets are often buried lower in the story.
I want to stress that you shouldn’t assume the sauna results can’t possibly be true. But when you see Bears-undefeated-in-alternate-jerseys type conclusions — and someone is claiming one thing causes the other — you should hold out for more evidence.
Epstein also describes how “pre-registration” is used to combat multiple comparisons, data mining, and the high degree of freedom researchers have which when combined with bad incentives lead to the trope that “studies show...” is almost always a phrase followed by bs.

Education Doesn’t Work 2.0 by Freddie deBoer
  • Relative position is mostly fixed even if on an absolute basis learning happens
    • The present study shows that individual differences in educational achievement are highly stable across the years of compulsory schooling from primary through secondary school. Children who do well at the beginning of primary school also tend to do well at the end of compulsory education for much the same reasons. This is the finding of all such research.
    • The kids in the top reading group at age 8 are probably going to college. The kids in the bottom reading group probably aren’t. This offends people’s sense of freedom and justice, but it is the reality in which we live.
  • Within a cohort such as race, variation comes from an individual intrinsic qualities. Environmental reasons explain variation between cohorts
  • absolute learning can happen. Formal education in and of itself does have durable and real improvements to intelligence. (The child care function of public schooling has also been transformative and progressive.) Doesn’t that disprove the point of this piece? Look at learning loss from Covid. Doesn’t that prove education works? Not in the sense I mean, no. Again, the question is not whether schooling helps individuals gain absolute knowledge or skills, but whether it can close relative gaps. If school works generically well across ability levels, it can’t. Formal education has real benefits. The trouble is that most everybody goes to school and enjoys those benefits, so the power of schooling to establish durable changes in relative position on the ability spectrum is limited. (And lower-performing people self-select out of higher education, which accelerates their being left behind.)
  • And, yes, to repeat myself, absolute learning can happen. Formal education in and of itself does have durable and real improvements to intelligence. (The child care function of public schooling has also been transformative and progressive.) Doesn’t that disprove the point of this piece? Look at learning loss from Covid. Doesn’t that prove education works? Not in the sense I mean, no. Again, the question is not whether schooling helps individuals gain absolute knowledge or skills, but whether it can close relative gaps. If school works generically well across ability levels, it can’t. Formal education has real benefits. The trouble is that most everybody goes to school and enjoys those benefits, so the power of schooling to establish durable changes in relative position on the ability spectrum is limited. (And lower-performing people self-select out of higher education, which accelerates their being left behind.) Compulsory education is a double-edged sword if you’re interested in shaking up who’s on top and who’s on the bottom. As I suggested above, if you were really maniacally focused on closing relative gaps, you’d just prevent the higher achievers from attending school at all.
    • All of this suggests that there is something innate or inherent to academic ability. (Which again does not necessarily imply that this factor is genetic.) Many will reply to this essay by saying that just because something is innate does not mean that it is unchangeable. This is true, and I haven’t and wouldn’t say educational outcomes are permanently immutable. The question is, what can we do from the perspective of the system that would work to “fix our schools,” to achieve the (remarkably vague) education-driven social outcomes politicians and policy types want? How would we close the gaps?
      The kind of intervention we would need has to
      1. Have a meaningful influence on academic outcomes where so many others have failed
      1. Be reliable, replicable, and scalable to a vast degree
      1. Cost little enough that the administration of this intervention is economically and politically feasible
      1. Somehow apply only to the students who are struggling or any subset thereof, and not to the students who are already flourishing, or else allow for us to prevent the parents of flourishing students from accessing this intervention for their own kids, lest we merely advance the whole student population forward but preserve the current relative distribution that determines professional and monetary rewards under meritocracy.
      I quote James Heckman, the same James Heckman who co-authored the Denmark paper and the problematic pre-K health outcomes paper. Ten years ago he wrote
      Gaps arise early and persist. Schools do little to budge these gaps even though the [perceived -ed.] quality of schooling attended varies greatly across social classes…. Gaps in test scores classified by social and economic status of the family emerge at early ages, before schooling starts, and they persist. Similar gaps emerge and persist in indices of soft skills classified by social and economic status. Again, schooling does little to widen or narrow these gaps.
      I would argue that, in the years since, the evidence that academic hierarchies are essentially static has only grown.
      I will not attempt to spell out the political and policy repercussions of this reality here. The Cult of Smart is a book-length version of this argument that includes long sections describing both more practical educational reforms and broader society-level changes that could better protect those who are on the bottom of the academic performance spectrum. You may disagree with some or all of those proposals as you like. But they are an honest attempt to wrestle with a basic reality of education and society that politicians and wonks are not allowed to address plainly because of misguided fears about the consequences of this thinking. The evidence is clear: immense efforts in educational interventions have utterly failed to close performance gaps, and vast expenditures in education have failed to close socioeconomic gaps. It’s time to try dramatically different approaches, and it’s time to demand that people in the policy world accept reality.
      Education is a good in and of itself, but the impact of education on the economy will always be most salient in political debates. By some metrics, the fastest-growing occupation in America is not programmer or microbiologist but home health aid. The job doesn’t require a college education. The median wage is $27,000 a year. Our system’s message to all of those people who will spend their days helping keep our elderly alive for poverty wages is, well, hey. Should have done better in school. Maybe the first step in doing better for them is recognizing that most of them never had a choice. But if you’re really dead set on education as the key to improving the economic fortunes of the disadvantaged, and you don’t think we can or should redistribute our way to a more just and equal society, and you’re fixated on moving kids from the bottom of the academic performance spectrum to the top, what can we do? What works? Nothing
Hard Work For My Kid, Not for Yours by Freddie deBoer
But there’s something profoundly disquieting about the vast divide between the political ideals articulated by our liberal educated class and the way they live their own lives, the way they teach their children to live theirs. In any other context, white people conspiring to deny children of color the same tools that they used to succeed themselves would be seen as flatly racist. Wouldn’t it?
Yes, we must recognize that we are dealt unequal hands in life, and advocate for using political tools to help account for this inequality. We could all stand to be more aware of the influence of structures of oppression and chance in our lives. But there’ no conflict between doing so and teaching our children to maximize their position within the broken old system while we labor to build the new. Even if we each have a certain level of potential in any given field, we can rise to meet that potential or not based in part on our environment and yes, our choices. To which degree, who can say? None of us knows the degree to which we are really in control of our destiny. But maybe we should ask ourselves how we might be hurting the futures of underprivileged children when we convince them that they have no control over theirs.
Pairs well with the Success Paradox:
I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup by Slatestarcodex
We started by asking: millions of people are conspicuously praising every outgroup they can think of, while conspicuously condemning their own in-group. This seems contrary to what we know about social psychology. What’s up? We noted that outgroups are rarely literally “the group most different from you”, and in fact far more likely to be groups very similar to you sharing almost all your characteristics and living in the same area. We then noted that although liberals and conservatives live in the same area, they might as well be two totally different countries or universe as far as level of interaction were concerned. Research suggests Blue Tribe / Red Tribe prejudice to be much stronger than better-known types of prejudice like racism…Spending your entire life insulting the other tribe and talking about how terrible they are makes you look, well, tribalistic. It is definitely not high class. So when members of the Blue Tribe decide to dedicate their entire life to yelling about how terrible the Red Tribe is, they make sure that instead of saying “the Red Tribe”, they say “America”, or “white people”, or “straight white men”. That way it’s humble self-criticism. . They are so  interested in justice that they are willing to critique their own beloved side much as it pains them to do so.
So how virtuous, how noble the Blue Tribe! Perfectly tolerant of all of the different groups that just so happen to be allied with them, never intolerant unless it happen to be against intolerance itself. Never stooping to engage in petty tribal conflict like that awful Red Tribe, but always nobly criticizing their own culture and striving to make it better! Sorry. But I hope this is at least a little convincing. The weird dynamic of outgroup-philia and ingroup-phobia isn’t anything of the sort. It’s just good old-fashioned in-group-favoritism and outgroup bashing, a little more sophisticated and a little more sneaky.
I can think of criticisms of my own tribe. Important criticisms, true ones. But the thought of writing them makes my blood boil. If you think you’re criticizing your own tribe, and your blood is not at that temperature, consider the possibility that you aren’t. But if I want Self-Criticism Virtue Points, criticizing the Grey Tribe is the only honest way to get them. The best thing that could happen to this post is that it makes a lot of people, especially myself, figure out how to be more tolerant. Not in the “of course I’m tolerant, why shouldn’t I be?” sense of the Emperor in Part I. But in the sense of “being tolerant makes me see red, makes me sweat blood, but darn it I am going to be tolerant anyway .”
  1. Gwern bit about being against witches is easy if you don't believe in witches.
  1. CS Lewis quote CS Lewis: You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house.
An Interview with Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Playbook by David Epstein
Ice Breakers
All our lives, we’re taught that you have to build up trust before you can be vulnerable. Icebreakers are proof that we’ve got it exactly backwards. Moments of vulnerability, when shared, ignite connection.
  • “Fear in a Hat” exercise: a group of incoming students write down their fears anonymously on slips of paper, and then take turns pulling each fear out and reading them aloud.
  • 4 Hs Exercies: In groups of 4-6, and ask everybody to take a few minutes to reflect silently on four questions: 1) Who is your biggest hero? 2) What was your biggest heartbreak? 3) What is your family history? 4) What is your hope for the coming year?
“Belonging cues” are the connective tissue for the group brain
You know that warm, energizing feeling you get when you’re in a good group? That buzz of connection, creativity, and possibility? What you’re actually feeling is psychological safety. And psychological safety doesn’t just happen — it’s built through the continual exchange of belonging cues. Belonging cues are small, repeated behaviors that send a clear signal: You matter. I hear you. We care. We share a future. [This is an important precursor to honest debate or what Todd Simkin called a culture of truth-seeking]
Safety is not about wrapping people in fleece and making them comfortable. Rather it’s about creating conditions where you can be uncomfortable together. Where minority viewpoints are unafraid to speak up and be heard. So on a deeper level it’s really about curiosity and humility. In great groups, people aren’t behaving like rugged individualists; to the contrary, they’re always looking for opportunities to give and receive help.
Great cultures actually contain more tension. Because people aren’t afraid to disagree, to argue energetically about big issues — then go out for a beer. Because the relationships are strong enough to explore hard problems together. In weak cultures, you get what I call Smoothness Disease — that tendency to want to pretend that everything is good. To walk past disagreements. To pretend that everything is good when it really isn’t.
The feeling of being in a great culture isn’t smoothness — it’s the feeling of solving hard problems with people you admire. That’s a special feeling, and it’s the reason that people inside great cultures love it so much.
Remote Work
No silver bullet but some ideas:
  • Toggling approach: alternate between remote and in-person, treating in-person work as a booster shot. Toggling keeps the relationships real.
  • Bucketing: Divide your work into two buckets: productive and creative. For productive work, it’s fine to work remotely. After all, you’re just cranking away. For creative work, however, studies show that it’s more effective to be in person.
The most magical culture-building words ever invented: TELL ME MORE
When a colleague brings you a problem resist that overwhelming temptation to add value, to share wisdom, to fix things. Then, say the most magical culture-building words ever invented: TELL ME MORE.
Self Improvement
Marketing Yourself
  • Shawn Wang's How To Market Yourself Without Being A Celebrity (Link)
Unlock One Another: The Right Compliment At The Right Time
Graham Duncan's What's Going On Here, With This Human?
Self-Help Without The Guilt
  • TJCX's How To Read Self-Help (Link)
How The Need For Coherence Drives Us Mad
  • The philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics Of Ambiguity
Preserving Habits From Covid
  • Zack Kanter's Projects, Process, and the Deep Cleanse (Link)
Wooderson’s Commencement Speech
  • Speech by Matthew McConaughey (Link)
Negotiating Pay
  • Patrick McKenzie's Salary Negotiation: Make More Money, Be More Valued (Link) (Highlights)
The Why And How Of Taking Discoverable Notes
We Don't Need No Education
Educational Ideas Inspired By Seymour Papert’s Constructionism
Jason Zweig on Writing
The Most Important Solutions Are Simple Just Not Easy
The Inner Ring by C.S. Lewis
Highlights: http://marker.to/rmZrTG Top Excerpts:
  • Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care. That will be the natural thing—the life that will come to you of its own accord. Any other kind of life, if you lead it, will be the result of conscious and continuous effort. If you do nothing about it, if you drift with the stream, you will in fact be an “inner ringer.” I don’t say you’ll be a successful one; that’s as may be. But whether by pining and moping outside Rings that you can never enter, or by passing triumphantly further and further in—one way or the other you will be that kind of man.
  • Corruption by the Inner Ring is subtle and gradual: And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear...And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected... That is my first reason. Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things. My second reason is this. The torture allotted to the Danaids in the classical underworld, that of attempting to fill sieves with water, is the symbol not of one vice, but of all vices. It is the very mark of a perverse desire that it seeks what is not to be had. The desire to be inside the invisible line illustrates this rule. As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain. This is surely very clear when you come to think of it. If you want to be made free of a certain circle for some wholesome reason—if, say, you want to join a musical society because you really like music—then there is a possibility of satisfaction. You may find yourself playing in a quartet and you may enjoy it. But if all you want is to be in the know, your pleasure will be short lived. The circle cannot have from within the charm it had from outside. By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic. Once the first novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humour or learning or wit or any of the things that can really be enjoyed. You merely wanted to be “in.” And that is a pleasure that cannot last. As soon as your new associates have been staled to you by custom, you will be looking for another Ring.
  • Instead of chasing the Inner Ring: If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it...But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain. And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it... To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of “insides,” full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities, and he desires to enter them. But if he follows that desire he will reach no “inside” that is worth reaching. The true road lies in quite another direction.
The Arc Of The Practical Creator
Intro and importance
  • Creativity is important because it’s about agency!
  • But creativity has been is imbued with impractical or whimsical connotations and relegated to art, music, writing. That’s how we think of as creatives (I think trading is deeply creative)
  • Creativity is about agency Creativity is subjective. A physician may regard her role as a deeply creative endeavor in the same way that a painter would for his... Creativity has more to do with the authentic desire to express, and less to do with the art form itself. For example, it’s tempting to call a painter a “creative person,” but it all depends on why he paints. If he does so because his mother is a famous painter that expects him to carry on the family name, then painting is not a form of creative expression for him. It’s a job.
  • The lesson we internalize early: creative expression is often used as a gateway to something more practical, and is rarely accepted as something practical in itself
    • The real reason they wanted us to take piano lessons was for developmental purposes. If we learned the piano, that would be helpful for our cognitive development, which in turn would better position us toward the actual careers they’d prefer us to have.
      This is why parents will rush to place their kids on long waitlists for art and music programs, but won’t encourage them to become artists or musicians as they age. It’s as if creative expression is useful for its ability to create connections between young neurons, and once that purpose has been fulfilled, it becomes an obstacle that gets in the way of viable career paths. With this view, the arts are utilitarian at best, burdensome at worst.
  • The internet made creativeness, your uniqueness an asset not a liability. Without gatekeepers and with more creator-friendly tools were introduced into the landscape, it expanded your ability to make money doing something you truly cared about. The internet enabled a vision where creativity and practicality were directly correlated. The more effort you put into your creative output, the greater the practical benefits would be. This represented a big flip in the way things traditionally worked.
The beginning:
  • Here’s the harsh reality of any creative endeavor: in the beginning, no one cares. Every creator requires a balance of intrinsic motivation and external validation, but you’ll have to accept that the external piece will be missing at first.
  • How will you manage the fact that you won’t be making any money from this? And without money, how will you cultivate the resilience to keep going?
    • Money affords you the privilege of having a big leap feel like a small hop, which lessens the anxiety that may surround your entry into any creative endeavor. Patience is only possible when you have the requisite headspace to cultivate it, and having your financial needs covered is absolutely critical for this.
The Arc Of The Practical Creator
Prioritize money
In the first stage of the arc, you need to focus on building wealth. You’ll need to put practicality ahead of creativity, and have a job that reliably puts money into your bank account, which you can then save or invest. A Practical Creator doesn’t view a boring job as a dead-end endeavor, but as an active patron of their creativity. In the same way that wealthy families support the financial needs of their favorite artists, the same could be said about you and your employer. You exchange your time for money, which is then used to purchase the clarity of attention you can invest into your creative work. .
The key to viewing your employer as a patron of your art, however, is contingent upon one important thing: When you’re in this first stage, you must rigorously work on your creative endeavors after your day job responsibilities. This is an absolute must. If every day consists of coming back home after work and then relaxing until you sleep, then you’re deluding yourself into thinking that this job funds your creative aspirations. The truth is that you don’t want it enough, and this boring job is not a patron for your art – it’s your actual career.
A Practical Creator doesn’t use the day job salary to buy everything they want, but saves as much of it as possible. They understand that every dollar saved today represents the freedom to create tomorrow. Patience is about learning to live with less, as this allows you to build up a bank account balance that could be later exchanged for agency.
The Leap
Eventually, you have fiscal certainty in the form of your savings, but on the other, you have fiscal uncertainty in the form of your creative endeavors.
Not making the leap: If you believe that leaving your job will result in overwhelming anxiety (regardless of how much you have saved), then perhaps the wise move would be to continue doing what you’re doing. Spend most of your day building wealth, and just some of it on your craft. However, if you’re in a position where you hate your job , you must accept this harsh truth: You are trading away your creative potential for fiscal security. There’s no nice way to put it. Anyone who spends a majority of their working life in an unchallenging environment cannot cultivate the clarity of mind required to bring out the best in themselves.
Making the leap
This leap can take many forms: Perhaps you quit your job to grow yourself as a solo creator. You take a huge pay cut to switch to an industry that better suits your curiosities. Regardless of what the situation is, you’ve made a conscious choice to go against the grain of social expectations.
At this point, you will feel the conflicting feelings of relief and tension. Relief from making a difficult decision, and tension from having to navigate the consequences of that decision. And when it comes to Stage 2, there will be a lot of tension you must sort through, as this is when the current of doubt is at its strongest.
When you’re pursuing something that is entirely aligned with your creative ambitions, it will largely be perceived as irrational. Your pursuit will be viewed through the lens of what is already known (ie stable employment with regular pay). Anything that doesn’t fit in with that mental model will seem foreign, and in some cases, even silly.
And you know what?
They’re right.
It is impractical to choose uncertainty over certainty. It does  boggle the mind to opt for volatility over stability. Any move that goes against the current of expectations is alarming, and the tricky thing is that you know it too. You understand the risk associated with choosing intuition over rationality, and the opportunity cost that comes with it.
The Great Plateau
This is the flat place in the arc where you’re actualizing your creative potential, but are not seeing the practical results of that effort. The customers aren’t pouring in, the audience isn’t growing, people don’t seem to care. The energy invested doesn’t align with expected outcomes, and this situation is rightfully concerning. But here’s the good news:
This is perfectly normal.
Why does it feel concerning?
Throughout our upbringing and our time in the educational system, we are taught that an expenditure of effort leads to an immediate reward. If you clean your room, you’ll get to have pizza for dinner. If you study hard for an exam, you’ll get a good grade. If you have a great interview, you’ll get that great job. And so on. The causal chain linking effort and reward is perpetually reinforced in our most formative years, which carries with us well into adulthood.
The issue is that this chain breaks down when we want to walk our own paths.
When you direct your attention to your personal curiosities, there’s no immediate reason for society to value that. Society only values what it already knows and wants. Companies offer salaries because they know exactly what to expect from their employees, even if it takes a while for them to contribute that value. But as a creator following your own interests, you alone are responsible for cultivating the value of your pursuit, and then convincing others of it through the delivery of your work.
This means that a significant time delay must be introduced between the expenditure of effort and the arrival of rewards. This goes against everything we’ve been conditioned to experience, so we often give up on our creative pursuits well before they’ve had the required time to catch people’s attention.
The key is to remember that silence is normal, especially in the early stages. And the more you can internalize its normalcy, the greater your resilience will be in pushing ahead without looking back.
How much of this delay between effort and results can you handle? How do you know that silence is indicative of unrealized good outcomes, or if it’s actually a reliable signal that you should quit?
There’s no clear answer here, but the way I parse through this conundrum is through two lenses:
(1) Your pool of resources
If you’ve run out of money, then patience is a luxury you can no longer afford. In this case, you’ll have to trade in your creative freedom for practical security, which translates to getting a job you’d rather not have in order to make money.
This represents a move back up the lefthand side of the arc, placing you in Stage 1 again. This doesn’t mean you’ve quit, nor does it imply reversion. It just means that you can no longer dedicate your full attention to your creative endeavor. If anything, your commitment to it may even be stronger because now you have an imposed limitation on your freedom.
What matters is whether you interpret this change as empowering or demoralizing. And whichever one you choose will determine your chances of future success.
(2) Your sense of progress. The tricky thing about patience is that you often don’t know if it’s a wise or foolish thing. It’s wise if it eventually pays off, and foolish if it doesn’t. If the external validation piece is low, you have to use your inner judgment to determine if you’re improving. Read something you wrote a while ago, and compare it to something you published recently. Does that old piece make you cringe a bit? Good. That’s a clear sign of progression.
The other thing to consider is the texture of silence while on the Great Plateau. For example, if the silence you’re experiencing is total (meaning that no one engages with your work), and it has been for an entire year, then that’s a reliable sign that this path isn’t for you. If you can’t get 20 people (outside of your loved ones) to care after a year, it’s hard to see how that will change in the subsequent one.
But if you’re experiencing periodic breakthroughs in silence, that’s a different story. Perhaps you sent your stuff to a creator you respect, and she encouraged you to keep going. Or you notice that a small but loyal following is developing with every piece you publish. This is a different kind of silence. It’s silence in the sense that your efforts still don’t align with the results, but it’s a signal that you’re headed in the right direction.
In this case, patience is your greatest asset.
When determination, patience, and progress blend together, something amazing happens. The shape of the Great Plateau begins to change, and what was previously the flatness of despair shifts into an incline of hope. People really start to care, your audience regularly reaches out, and a viable career path emerges.
Navigate the Creative Career
So when we think of the word “career,” we naturally frame it in the context of tradition. We think of predictable cadences of work with predictable deposits of money, following a path that culminates in a predictable position of high standing. And most importantly, all this is determined by the culture and structure set by our employers.
But when it comes to your creative endeavor, you set the tempo to everything. You determine when it’s the best time of day to work, you choose when to respond to emails, and you decide how you want to build your audience. This sense of total agency bears little resemblance to what a career is supposed to look like, so it could instead feel like a serious hobby.
But if you’re in Stage 3, here’s the reality: Your craft is en route to practicality, which by definition, makes it a career path.
We often think that you have to be an established creator to justify a creative career. But no one thinks that you have to be the CEO of a company to justify your career there. No, a career begins at the entry-level, from the moment you get compensated and recognized for your capacity to solve problems. If those conditions are satisfied (at whatever scale) and you are serious about improving yourself as a creator, then you have a career.
Once you accept this, you’ll feel deeply empowered. The leap in commitment that occurs when you refer to a hobby as your career is the same as when a love interest becomes your life partner. In the same way that a marriage consolidates your networks into a united whole, every node of your creative life will be assimilated into your identity. There’s no choice but to take your creative endeavor more seriously, and you will invest the focus and rigor required to proudly refer to it as your career.
If you can cultivate this mindset while progressing forward, it’s only inevitable that the results will one day pour in. You’ll be able to convert the attention you attract into a flow of money, which allows you to invest more of your energy into this craft. A flywheel effect begins to form, and once it’s in motion, the practicality of your endeavor will become readily apparent.
In this final portion of the arc, the great gift you are given isn’t necessarily money, but confidence. Money is a surrogate for trust. This is why money is the ultimate form of external validation. Whereas any casual observer can appreciate your work, only a believer will invest her hard-earned resources into it. And when you see that there are many people who believe in you this way, then you’ll be empowered to bring out the best in yourself.
Staying confident but not arrogant
A big part of the creative journey is understanding that there is no finish line. Even if you reach the heights of success, you know that there is still more room to grow. That’s because your potential is not actualized through people telling you that it is. It can only be actualized through an internal commitment to improvement, which is perpetual because we humans have the ability to recognize our inherent flaws.
The key is to divorce the allure of external validation from the commitment to internal growth. That no amount of money or praise is a signal that you’ve reached the promised land. That so much of what makes the creative journey fulfilling is humility, and that embracing uncertainty is what allows you to forge onward.
Are you a malleable beginner, or a hardened veteran? In other words, do you optimize for growth or for preservation? [or in my opnion balancing explore vs exploit]
Do you optimize for growth or for preservation? It’s often said that successful creators hustle hard at first, and then slow down later. That’s because growth requires you to open up many decision trees to see what works, whereas preservation closes them to cultivate clear judgment.
In this final stage of the arc, grow your curiosities, but preserve your attention. Cultivate a beginner’s mind for the things you want to learn about, and the things that expand your intellectual horizons. Let your inner child roam free. Learn things for their own sake, and not for their utility.
But when it comes to actually creating and making decisions, take your time. Use your hard-earned wisdom to your advantage, and slow down to give yourself the space to think. Remove everything that acts as a roadblock to your greatest asset, which is the attention you dedicate to creating.
This is where money acts as a useful tool. You can hire people to help manage the decisions that you no longer want to make. You can purchase the services required to automate the logistics you don’t want to think about. A Practical Creator understands that money’s great gift is to give you freedom over your attention, which is why they always reinvest their earnings back into their endeavors or businesses.
It’s this winning combination of intellectual growth and attentional preservation that allows you to remain on the right side of the arc. You continue expanding your desire to learn, while also reducing the many pulls of your creative focus. Your intellectual inputs increase, while your attentional demands decrease.
And by keeping this balance, your creative endeavor will retain its practicality for a long, long time.
The unifying virtue: patience
Patience has 3 textures, each have different relevance depending on the stage
  1. Stage 1 patience = tolerance You’d rather not spend 8 hours at a job you don’t care for, but you realize what it enables you to do. It gives you the financial breathing room required to work on your craft on the evenings and weekends, and allows you to endure the delay in outcomes. So instead of despising the job, you can embrace it as your patron and tolerate the shortcomings that accompany it. As long as you’re diligently working on your craft in your free time (which is an absolute must), you can be thankful for the fact that you have a job that affords you that creative headspace.
    1. Gratitude for the undesirable is what defines patience here.
  1. Stage 2 patience = resilience the pace of your effort will not be aligned with the delivery of results. There will be silence, disappointment, broken expectations, and other variations of those unpleasant things. But the key is to remember that they are normal parts of the Great Plateau – not anomalies. As long as you’re monitoring progress and are attuned to small signals of external validation, you can accept that the fruits of your labor will arrive long after the seeds are sown. The reframing of silence is what defines patience here.
  1. Stage 3 patience = balance You have confidence in your abilities, but realize how quickly that could transition into arrogance. You want to freely explore your curiosities, but also understand how important it is to slow down and cultivate clear judgment. You finally have money to spend, but know that the sustainable move is to reinvest it back into your endeavor. As long as you’re aware of the equally poignant truth that rests on the other side, you can cultivate the wisdom required to make your creativity an infinite game. The acceptance of contradictions is what defines patience here.
Every stage will be challenging, and that’s the point.
Creative endeavors are inspiring because the scope of the problem often feels bigger than your capacity to solve it. But because you find that problem so worthwhile, you’re willing to put in the effort required to provide the best solution possible. Through this process, you become a more capable person, which allows you to address more worthwhile problems in turn. It’s this beautiful cycle that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning in how you spend your time and energy.
So regardless of which stage you’re in, understand that there is no easier or harder. There is just challenge. And the only way to cultivate a healthy relationship with challenge is to develop the patience required to manage it properly.
How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen
On how Clayton responds to advice-seekers…
When people ask what I think they should do, I rarely answer their question directly. Instead, I run the question aloud through one of my models. I’ll describe how the process in the model worked its way through an industry quite different from their own. And then, more often than not, they’ll say, “OK, I get it.” And they’ll answer their own question more insightfully than I could have.
On remembering why you do something at all…
Over the years I’ve watched the fates of my HBS classmates from 1979 unfold; I’ve seen more and more of them come to reunions unhappy, divorced, and alienated from their children. I can guarantee you that not a single one of them graduated with the deliberate strategy of getting divorced and raising children who would become estranged from them. And yet a shocking number of them implemented that strategy. The reason? They didn’t keep the purpose of their lives front and center as they decided how to spend their time, talents, and energy.
Had I instead spent that hour each day learning the latest techniques for mastering the problems of autocorrelation in regression analysis, I would have badly misspent my life. I apply the tools of econometrics a few times a year, but I apply my knowledge of the purpose of my life every day. It’s the single most useful thing I’ve ever learned. I promise my students that if they take the time to figure out their life purpose, they’ll look back on it as the most important thing they discovered at HBS. If they don’t figure it out, they will just sail off without a rudder and get buffeted in the very rough seas of life.
Not everything that matters is good at giving you prompt feedback. If you fail to appreciate this, you chase what’s easily legible at the cost of things that are hard to measure.
Allocation choices can make your life turn out to be very different from what you intended. Sometimes that’s good: Opportunities that you never planned for emerge. But if you misinvest your resources, the outcome can be bad. As I think about my former classmates who inadvertently invested for lives of hollow unhappiness, I can’t help believing that their troubles relate right back to a short-term perspective.
When people who have a high need for achievement—and that includes all Harvard Business School graduates—have an extra half hour of time or an extra ounce of energy, they’ll unconsciously allocate it to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments. And our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we’re moving forward. You ship a product, finish a design, complete a presentation, close a sale, teach a class, publish a paper, get paid, get promoted. In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement.
Kids misbehave every day. It’s really not until 20 years down the road that you can put your hands on your hips and say, “I raised a good son or a good daughter.” You can neglect your relationship with your spouse, and on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t seem as if things are deteriorating. People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.
If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won’t magically materialize in high school. You have to design them into your family’s culture—and you have to think about this very early on. Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.
Give me an example…
The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place.
Be careful how you strive…
Once you’ve finished at Harvard Business School or any other top academic institution, the vast majority of people you’ll interact with on a day-to-day basis may not be smarter than you. And if your attitude is that only smarter people have something to teach you, your learning opportunities will be very limited. But if you have a humble eagerness to learn something from everybody, your learning opportunities will be unlimited. [Me: This is a powerful prescription to make yourself more teachable]: Generally, you can be humble only if you feel really good about yourself—and you want to help those around you feel really good about themselves, too.
His final recommendation…
Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.
Philosophy Has Lost Its Way by Lawrence Yeo
There’s Nothing More Real Than Your Potential by Lawrence Yeo
  • The lion’s purpose, whether it realizes it or not, is to live another day. Humans, on the other hand, can decouple survival from purpose.
  • The pursuit of purpose, however, is both a source of meaning and suffering. Purpose is largely tied to progress, and progress is most commonly measured in what one does for work.
  • If you hate what you do for work, then you will either (1) find a sense of purpose elsewhere, or (2) use your job to fund other activities that are meaningful. If you don’t do either option for a long time, then each day will feel like a pointless slog, and nihilism will be there to greet you each morning.
  • An existential crisis arises when you are faced with the question of purpose, and you have no satisfying answer. Perhaps you spent the last 10 years of your life working on something, only to find that it was all pointless. Or you achieved what you thought you wanted, only to feel more empty than you’ve ever been. A crisis of this nature asks you, “How are you going to make better use of your finite time now?”
  • This is a stressful place to be, but there is a silver lining. We learn best through trial, and error is our greatest teacher. By knowing what doesn’t work, you erase many of the potential life paths that were once on your landscape.
  • When you’re on a path that feels empowering, you don’t have to wonder whether or not you should keep going. It just feels right, and you know it. And herein lies the paradox: The less you have to ask about your purpose, the more you embody it. Use your curiosity to explore a path that feels foreign, and play there for a while. If the questioning of purpose grows stronger, then turn back. It’s not the right one. But if that question begins to fade, keep walking. You’re getting closer. Through it all, remember that there’s nothing more real than your potential. Oftentimes, the awareness of that is enough to keep you going.
How To Explain Things Real Good by Nicky Case
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The Art Of Fermenting Great Ideas by Nat Eliason
  • If you want all of the ideas that pop into your brain to be clever responses to that person who was WRONG on Twitter today, then, by all means, scroll Twitter all day. If you want all your mental RAM to go towards fearing for your life over this year’s new armageddon myth, go for it. But if you want to come up with useful brain farts that move your life forward, you will have to stop feeding your mailroom dog shit. Garbage in, garbage out.
  • [This next bit works for getting better at anything including relationships imo]
    • Removal is only the first step, though. You must replace it with the fresh juicy jalapeños you want your brain to be fermenting.
      You’re probably assuming I’m going to say “read great books” or “read old stuff” here, but no, that’s not the answer. That helps shift your thinking in a more interesting direction. But it doesn’t necessarily help generate great ideas.
      The most important food to constantly feed your brain is the problems you want it to be solving. These problems do not need to be grand like “solving world hunger.” Maybe one of your problems right now is what to get people for Christmas. You have to define clearly what those problems are and then constantly remind your brain to think about them. You need to be sending all-caps memos down to the mailroom fifty times a day saying COME UP WITH GIFT IDEAS!!! Otherwise, the mailroom is thinking about whether you’d rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck.
  • [Maybe shower thoughts are shower thoughts because there's no other times when we would have such thoughts. Corollary: A good use of money is to buy time so you can be idle and have more ideas.]
    • Output time is creating the space and boredom for those inputs to ferment into something interesting. Staring at a blank page of your journal, opening a document to start writing, going for a (no headphones) walk with a notebook, working out without music, or sitting in the sauna. However you create bored, quite space for your brain to finally get some processing room to spit ideas out; you must create that space if you want the ideas to form.
      The ways we fail at this are obvious. We never give ourselves output time because we’re terrified of silence and boredom. We need a podcast while working out. We need music while working. We keep social media up in another tab. We have notifications on our phones. We let ourselves be interrupted.
      If your first response to boredom is to seek out another input to sate the longing for stimulation, then your brain never has to make shit up to entertain you. The idea muscles will atrophy and never produce anything of worth. But if you can respond to boredom by leaning into it, keeping the blank page open, and seeing what pops out, the muscle gets stronger over time.
  • We all want our problems to be solved quickly, and we want to neatly move through a checklist of tasks to retain the illusion of control over our lives, but great ideas don’t seem to work like that. Sometimes you need to be exceedingly patient with them. You can’t always have all the time in the world, but when you have the space to noodle on something, take it. I’ll narrow down what I’m going to write about in this newsletter by Monday or Tuesday of the week before, then spend the rest of the week seeing what ideas pop up about the various topic ideas. By Monday, I’ll typically have the skeleton of a post fully flushed out in one of them. If I waited until Monday to start jotting ideas down, it would be much harder, and the post would certainly be much worse. So give the great ideas time to pop up. Even if you know you have weeks or months to figure something out, start priming your brain with those questions now so it has time to process them.
  • Recipe:
      1. Find the best ingredients possible to ferment into great ideas, and aggressively prune everything you don’t want your brain to process.
      1. Give your brain the boredom and output time it needs to figure out what to do with that information. Don’t keep opening the jar and packing more into it.
      1. Finally, be patient with the process. The more you can reduce the amount of information you’re taking in, and the more boredom you can give your brain to work, the better your results will be.