Feb 10, 2024

Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

“Since the mid-1980s, my mantra for this process is 'strong opinions, weakly held.' Allow your intuition to guide you to a conclusion, no matter how imperfect — this is the 'strong opinion' part. Then – and this is the 'weakly held' part – prove yourself wrong. Engage in creative doubt. Look for information that doesn’t fit, or indicators that pointing in an entirely different direction. Eventually your intuition will kick in and a new hypothesis will emerge out of the rubble, ready to be ruthlessly torn apart once again.”

- Paul Saffo

Nov 6, 2023

Seek Work That Compounds

“Are there general rules for finding situations with superlinear returns? The most obvious one is to seek work that compounds.

“There are two ways work can compound. It can compound directly, in the sense that doing well in one cycle causes you to do better in the next. That happens for example when you're building infrastructure, or growing an audience or brand. Or work can compound by teaching you, since learning compounds. This second case is an interesting one because you may feel you're doing badly as it's happening. You may be failing to achieve your immediate goal. But if you're learning a lot, then you're getting exponential growth nonetheless.

“This is one reason Silicon Valley is so tolerant of failure. People in Silicon Valley aren't blindly tolerant of failure. They'll only continue to bet on you if you're learning from your failures. But if you are, you are in fact a good bet: maybe your company didn't grow the way you wanted, but you yourself have, and that should yield results eventually.

“Indeed, the forms of exponential growth that don't consist of learning are so often intermixed with it that we should probably treat this as the rule rather than the exception. Which yields another heuristic: always be learning. If you're not learning, you're probably not on a path that leads to superlinear returns.

“But don't overoptimize what you're learning. Don't limit yourself to learning things that are already known to be valuable. You're learning; you don't know for sure yet what's going to be valuable, and if you're too strict you'll lop off the outliers.”

“There are many variables that affect how good your work is, and if you want to be an outlier you need to get nearly all of them right. For example, to do something exceptionally well, you have to be interested in it. Mere diligence is not enough. So in a world with superlinear returns, it's even more valuable to know what you're interested in, and to find ways to work on it.”

“It will also be important to choose work that suits your circumstances. For example, if there's a kind of work that inherently requires a huge expenditure of time and energy, it will be increasingly valuable to do it when you're young and don't yet have children.”

- Paul Graham, Superlinear Returns

The Recipe for Doing Great Work

“There's a surprising amount of technique to doing great work. It's not just a matter of trying hard. I'm going to take a shot giving a recipe...

  1. Choose work you have a natural aptitude for and a deep interest in.
  2. Develop a habit of working on your own projects; it doesn't matter what they are so long as you find them excitingly ambitious.
  3. Work as hard as you can without burning out, and this will eventually bring you to one of the frontiers of knowledge. These look smooth from a distance, but up close they're full of gaps. Notice and explore such gaps, and if you're lucky one will expand into a whole new field.
  4. Take as much risk as you can afford; if you're not failing occasionally you're probably being too conservative.
  5. Seek out the best colleagues. Develop good taste and learn from the best examples.
  6. Be honest, especially with yourself.
  7. Exercise and eat and sleep well and avoid the more dangerous drugs.
  8. When in doubt, follow your curiosity. It never lies, and it knows more than you do about what's worth paying attention to.
“And there is of course one other thing you need: to be lucky. Luck is always a factor, but it's even more of a factor when you're working on your own rather than as part of an organization. And though there are some valid aphorisms about luck being where preparedness meets opportunity and so on, there's also a component of true chance that you can't do anything about. The solution is to take multiple shots. Which is another reason to start taking risks early.”

- Paul Graham, Superlinear Returns

See also: How To Do Great Work

Sep 19, 2023

HiPPO Decision Making

“A/B enthusiasts...have a derisive term to describe a decision-making system that fails to put data at its heart: HiPPO — 'highest-paid person's opinion' ...

“Tech circles are rife with stories of the clueless boss who almost killed a project because of a 'mere opinion.'”

Source: “The A/B Test: Inside the Technology That's Changing the Rules of Business,” Wired, 4/25/2012

Aug 20, 2023

The Wisdom of Small Bets

“When nothing is working, explore and make a lot of small bets.

“After something starts working, double down on what works best.

“When that stops working, explore and make a lot of small bets again.”

- James Clear

Apr 30, 2023

A Continuing Exploration of Mysteries

“The public has a distorted view of science because children are taught in school that science is a collection of firmly established truths. In fact, science is not a collection of truths. It is a continuing exploration of mysteries.”

- Freeman Dyson

Dec 29, 2022

King Lear's Advice

“Have more than you show, speak less than you know.”

- Shakespeare, King Lear

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.”

Sep 12, 2022

The Fear of Social Death

“If there was an E=MC2 of sociology, it would be that the fear of social death is greater than the fear of physical death.”

- Brooke Harrington, sociologist

Jun 30, 2022

Just Laws are Rooted in Eternal/Natural Laws

“To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.”

- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

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.