Oct 23, 2022

The Perils of Taking the Lead

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things; because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”

- Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, The Prince

Commenting on this 500-year-old bit of wisdom, J. Storrs Hall, author of Where Is My Flying Car?, writes:

“It still holds true today as much as it did in Renaissance Italy. Any time there is a stratification in a given field, it could be money, it could be political power, it could even be merely accrued experience and influence therefrom – there will be both incentive and opportunity for those at the top to oppose and thwart attempts to change the way things are done.”

Apr 30, 2022

Science Follows Politics

“Science isn’t some objective reasonable force outside of politics. Scientists spend most of their careers chasing government grant funding, and fighting for appointments and promotions in government-funded university systems. Science follows politics, and nobody knows this as much as the disingenuous politicians who claim that their policies are subordinate to scientific findings.”

- Eugyppius

Apr 7, 2022

Every Language is a Story about People

“For Vaughn, every language is really a story about the people it connected him to.

“He learned American Sign Language from Gallaudet University students at a club called Tracks, which had a dance floor known for its vibrations.

“He picked up some Japanese. from the staff at a restaurant where he volunteered to clean the fish tank once a week.

“When his niece liked the way the word chicken sounded in Salish., they started studying it together, befriended leaders of the language school on the Flathead Indian Reservation and road-tripped to Arlee, Mont., twice.”

Source: "The remarkable brain of a carpet cleaner who speaks 24 languages," The Washington Post, 4/5/2022

Apr 3, 2022

Believe in Logic, Not Authorities

“You should, in science, believe logic and arguments, carefully drawn, and not authorities.”

- Richard Feynman

(HT: Shane Parrish of Farnam Street)

Mar 8, 2022

Science is a Way of Thinking

“Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.”

- Carl Sagan

Another rebuke of the idea that there is such a thing as 'settled science.' More rebukes here.

Understand the Trunk & the Branches

“One bit of advice: It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree. Make sure you understand the fundamental principles — i.e. the trunk and big branches — before you get into the leaves/details, or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”

- Elon Musk

The Real Sin is Taking a Long Time

“It’s not a sin to not get the deal ... It’s a sin to take a long time to not get the deal.”

- Chris Voss, "The 7 Deadly Sins of Negotiation"

Feb 24, 2022

The Wise are Mightier than the Strong

“The wise are mightier than the strong, and those with knowledge grow stronger and stronger.”

- King Solomon, Proverbs 24:5 (NLT)

Feb 20, 2022

Wisdom is Wasted on the Old

“People say youth is wasted on the young. I disagree. I believe wisdom is wasted on the old. All you can do is give it away, and the people you love the most don’t want it.”

- AJ Khubani, Founder & CEO of Telebrands

AJ texted Bill and me this quote today. He had told us a version when we visited him yesterday in Miami. It gave us pause for thought, and we were still discussing its implications this afternoon.

AJ had spoken to us about his history of being taken in by charlatans. He expressed frustration that one of his children was repeating his mistakes, yet wouldn't listen to good advice. He had all the wisdom of decades of experience to give away, but one of the people he cared most about in this world wouldn't receive his gift.

So we sat there and accepted the gift instead.

Feb 6, 2022

Being Rich is Like Being Food Secure

“For Americans and others like us fortunate enough to live in wealthy countries, being rich is like having more food than you need...The sad fact is that billions of people around the globe are food insecure. This means the main focus of their life is escaping starvation.”

“My point of this parallel is that being rich is equivalent to being food secure, except with money. When you’re food secure and hungry, you go to the kitchen and eat. When you’re rich, and you need money, you go to the bank get money. After a while, you rarely give it much thought, because there’s always more than enough, so why waste your time thinking about it?

“That’s where being wealthy begins and ends. It has no meaning other than that. Granted, being rich and never having to worry about money is a big deal, but it doesn’t mean more than the lack of worrying. Being rich doesn’t mean you’re any smarter, savvier or superior to anyone else. It just means you’re rich.”

- Steve Siebold, Secrets Self-Made Millionaires Teach Their Kids

Nov 21, 2021

You Need to Read to Think Well

“You can't replace reading with other sources of information like videos, because you need to read in order to write well, and you need to write in order to think well.”

- Paul Graham

“Writing is often the process by which you realize that you do not understand what you are talking about,” adds Farnam Street's Shane Parrish.

Shy Away from Small Risks & You Embrace Big Risk

“Most people don’t understand how to handle uncertainty. They shy away from small risks, and without realizing it, they embrace the big, big risk. Businessmen who are consistently successful have the exact opposite attitude: Make all the mistakes you want, just make sure you’re going to be there tomorrow.”

- Nassim Taleb

(Source: Esquire)

Taleb is talking about traders who blow up. But I see wisdom here for my business as well.

For us, the small risk is investing in one's own projects. It can be quite costly to develop a product, create a commercial for that product and then fund the market testing. Since only about one in 10 projets succeed (industry-wide), there is a definite risk of losing one's money here, and the losses can mount up quickly.

However, these are the small risks in the grand scheme of things. The big money comes when projects succeed and roll out nationally. Getting a fair deal and a meaningful chunk of the profits requires having the leverage of a tested project you fully own. The timid — those who avoid the small risks of self-funding and sell-in early — get bad deals and miss out on the kind of brand equity that pays dividends for years to come.

Debtors are Not Free People

“I have never, ever borrowed a penny. So I have zero credit record. No loans, no mortgage, nothing. Ever. When I had no money, I rented. I have an allergy to borrowing and a scorn for people who are in debt, and I don’t hide it. I follow the Romans’ attitude that debtors are not free people.”

- Nassim Taleb

(Source: Esquire)

Nov 19, 2021

If 50 Million People Say a Foolish Thing

“If fifty million people say a foolish thing ... it is still a foolish thing.”

- Anatole France

What a perfect quote to articulate the ad numeram fallacy!

Per My Logical Fallacy:

“The argumentum ad numeram wrongly equates the numbers in support of a contention with the correctness of it. Ideas which have mass support are not necessarily more likely to be right; but the ad numeram supposes that they are ...

“If ideas were decided by numbers, no new ones would ever be admitted. Every new idea starts out as a minority viewpoint and gains acceptance only if the evidence for it wins converts over from the prevailing view. If numbers are the test, then Giordano Bruno was wrong when he said the earth moved around the sun, and the authorities were right to burn him at the stake.”

Nov 15, 2021

Science Cannot Answer Childlike Questions

“The existence of a limit to science is, however, made clear by its inability to answer childlike elementary questions having to do with first and last things – questions such as 'How did everything begin?' 'What are we all here for?' 'What is the point of living?'”

- Nobel Laureate Sir Peter Medawar

Oct 16, 2021

Healthy Skepticism, Suspended Judgment

“The scientist explores the world of phenomena by successive approximations. He knows that his data are not precise and that his theories must always be tested. It is quite natural that he tends to develop healthy skepticism, suspended judgment, and disciplined imagination — not only about other people's ideas but also about his own.”

- Edwin Hubble

Adding this one to the list of similar quotes from scientists and thinkers that includes Albert Einstein (here and here), Richard Feynman and Karl Popper.

(NB: The italics indicate the latter part of the quote may have been added by others.)

Oct 13, 2021

The Most Powerful Force

“Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understand it, earns it. He who doesn't, pays it.”

- (attributed to Albert Einstein)

“All the returns in life, whether in wealth, relationships, or knowledge, come from compound interest.”

- Naval Ravikant

Financial compounding can turn a consistent saver earning a mediocre salary into a multi-millionaire. That same powerful force can bankrupt a consistent borrower making only mediocre debt payments. Now imagine two siblings who start in the same place but go in these opposite directions. Because of compounding, they will have an ocean of financial difference between them in just a few decades. 

As Naval observes, this is not just true of wealth. It's true of many other things: knowledge, health, relationships and more.

Might all success in life ultimately be explained as the compounding returns of good choices? And might all failures be explained as the compounding returns of poor ones?

Everyone is fallible. We all make good choices and some really bad ones. But perhaps it's the amount, direction and pattern of those choices that counts  — because choices compound over time. 

Sep 21, 2021

Brandolini's Law (Bullshit Asymmetry Principle)

“The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than to produce it.”

- Alberto Brandolini, Italian programmer

Twitter commentator "Gurwinder" (@G_S_Bhogal) reformulates the law this way: “It takes a lot more energy to refute bullshit than to produce it. Hence, the world is full of unrefuted bullshit.”

We should all keep that in mind the next time we read something online. As I often say (sarcastically): “I read it on the Internet. It must be true!”

Sep 16, 2021

Good Science is Skeptical Science

“We should never forget that good science is skeptical science. One way in which science proceeds is by attempting to falsify hypotheses; and further, we can embrace any given hypothesis; and then only tentatively, only for as long as we are unable to falsify it.”

- Dr. Samuel Shapiro, founder of BU's Slone Epidemiology Center

Dr. Shapiro is yet another addition to a long and impressive list of great thinkers who have made similar points about science: Albert Einstein (here and here), Richard Feynman, Karl Popper, Nassim Taleb and Michael Crichton.

From these quoteworthy giants one idea becomes clear: The idea of a "scientific consensus" or "settled science" is antithetical to science.

(HT: Chris Kresser)

Aug 27, 2021

Exploit Explained: Left-Digit Bias

{This post is part of the Archive of Human Exploits}

“Humans are hardwired to focus on the left digit in numbers. It’s why products are priced at $3.99 instead of $4.00. But does this left-digit bias also affect medical decisions?” asked Dr. Babu Jena in a recent episode of the Freakonomics, M.D. podcast.

Dr. Jena was talking about something called left-digit bias and a study that examined the frequency of surgeries performed on heart-attack patients who were admitted to hospital two weeks before their 80th birthday (while they were still 79) compared to patients who were admitted two weeks after their 80th birthday. Per Forbes, the study found that:

“[P]atients who just turned 80 were 24% less likely to receive cardiac bypass surgery compared to medically similar 79-year old patients who were two weeks shy of their 80th birthday. The 80-year old patients also experienced higher death rates compared to the 79-year old patients, after 30 days of hospitalization.

“Furthermore, these discrepancies were not seen when comparing patients two weeks before and after their 77th, 78th, 79th, 81st, 82nd, or 83rd birthdates. Only the transition from age 79 to age 80 resulted in a statistically significant change in treatment.”

This human exploit has long been known to practitioners is my industry (As Seen on TV), the offer shown at the top of this post being so common it isn't even given much thought anymore. That is, no ASOTV marketer would ever market a product for $15 or $20. It's always $14.99 and $19.99. (On a side note, some still use $14.95 and $19.95 despite the fact this gives away four cents for no good reason. There is no corresponding right-digit bias!) 

We use this little trick because we have long known that prices ending in 99 somehow feel like one dollar cheaper instead of just one penny cheaper. Now, apparently, there's an official name for it.