Still Seeing Red

“See focus. see pride. See passion. See history. See red.” -Chicago Bulls Team Slogan

Last night, the Chicago Bulls lost game six of the NBA Eastern Conference Semi-finals in the worst possible way. In spite of a subpar game from Lebron James and an injured Kyrie Irving, Chicago still managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Among sports fans, none of us like to see our team’s season end that way. It’s downright aggravating to the point of I don’t know what. Nevertheless, it’s over. And it could’ve been a heck of a lot worse. For starters, we could be Philadelphia 76ers fans (sorry Philly). But more importantly, Derrick Rose was injured 2 months ago and everyone was counting him out. With little time for recovery, he came back just as the playoffs began and he showed flashes of his old MVP self. Who else sits out with injuries for 2.5 seasons and plays that kind of basketball right away? Moreover, Jimmy Butler, who won the NBA’s most improved player award this year, gave a solid performance defending Lebron James. As a Chicago Bulls fan, there’s a lot to be grateful for. In spite of a horrific final performance, the Chicago Bulls gave us a great season.

These times of pain are what make the moments of pleasure matter. Some say, “it’s just a game.” But they don’t understand that some of us learned how to fly by watching this game. I could end my self-perpetuated sadness right now by simply choosing not to care. But I choose to indulge the promise of hope rather than bask in the relief of indifference. I will not stop expressing my human tendency to play simply because the game did not go my way. To the team that taught me how to dream, thanks for giving us a season to remember.

Much love and respect to the Chicago Bulls.

Becoming a Career Superstar, Getting Past Gatekeepers, The Meaning of Art, & Lessons on Creating from Lois Lane

One of the main things you have is your point of view. Your particular point of view is what fuels your work. If you’re just working on something because you have the skills to do it and it’s not triggering your point of view, the work can only rise to a certain level. So even as a career strategy, if the work only rises to a certain level, you’ll be thought of as a utility player, not as a superstar. –Brian Koppelman

Your Point of View: Finding it, Respecting it, Trusting it, and Making it a Part of Your Work

Brian Koppelman On Practices, Courage, and Gatekeepers

In this interview with Todd Henry of the Accidental Creative podcast, Brian Koppelman shares his insights on how to be more creative, doing work you love, the value of daily rituals, and the power of persistence.

Speaking on the passion he has for his work, Koppelman expresses sentiments that echoes Joseph Campbell’s advice to “follow your bliss.”

I don’t even think of it as a side project. I just think of it as this thing that I love to do and that I’m so lucky and happy to do. It’s a huge highlight of my week and it’s something that I really look forward to. I only have people on the show who really fascinate me. There has to be something about the way they live their live, the choices that they’ve made, the creative risks that they’ve taken that lights me up and that raises questions in me or else I won’t book them on the show.

I look at these conversations I get to have as amplified versions of conversations I try to have in my life generally with these people. One of the great benefits of having become a working artist with some body of work that other people have responded to, is that I’m able to reach out to people I admire, and people about whom I have curiosity, or people I want to be mentors to me, or people who I think have an angle on a certain aspect on life or the creative life I want to know more about.

It’s really just an amplification or reflection of what I am and who I am as a person. These are conversations I have with my kids, and my wife, and with sort of everyone in my life. The microphone gives me almost an excuse to go deeper, to get into territory that might be a little uncomfortable at dinner…

Work that makes you truly come alive is experienced as an investment of one’s energy rather than an expenditure. The adage, “when you find what you love, you’ll never work another day in your life,” isn’t a false promise of a life free from discipline and demand, but rather an invitation to a kind of work that gives back. For those who manage to find their life’s calling, work is experienced as a reciprocating force. The energy one pours into it is reflected by to the worker in various forms. Koppelman’s relationship to work is reminder that the so-called “daily grind” or “rat race” can be a deep source of nourishment when we work harder at building a healthy relationship to our work than we do at just showing up to our jobs.

Addressing the issue of doing what you love versus doing things for the money, Koppelman offers the following two cents:

Only you can make that choice from a priority standpoint, but I know that I now won’t just take a job or an opportunity because there’s more money in that place. I haven’t for years. To me, the level of pain associated with that is to great. I don’t feel like I’m tapping into my best self and I put a primacy on that. I put a primacy on being able to go home at night and be really good to the people that I love. And I think that if you’re blocked creatively, you become toxic to yourself and I think that toxicity spreads.

At one point in the interview, Koppelman shares the story of how Gene Simmons from Kiss discovered the band, Van Halen, early on in their music career. Excited about their potential, Simmons helped them produce high quality demos (demos including songs that would later perform well on their first three albums) and attempted to help them get signed with his manager. When the band met with his manager, he rejected them and said their music wasn’t commercial enough. Van Halen was devastated by the rejection and taken aback by the surprising criticisms of their music. Later on, Simmons’ manager admitted that their primary concern was making sure Simmons didn’t get distracted from his music obligations, given the success of Kiss, by devoting too much attention to trying to manage a new band. So they decided that they would be critical of Van Halen’s music no matter how it sounded.

The lesson Koppelman extracts from this story is a powerful one:

You’re going to hear the “no,” probably, in the way that’s least empowering to you because we’re all still, in some sort of way, that kid in the art class. So you’re going to hear the “no” as confirmation that you’re worthless when, in fact, it may have nothing to do with the work you’ve put in front of the buyer, or the agent, or the authority figure. That person may be under pressures and employing strategies that you have no way to know about. So I’ve always cataloged these stories for myself and held on to them to prod me forward when I know in my bones that some pursuit is worthwhile.

Koppelman cautions listeners against being too quick to surrender their judgment to gatekeepers and experts:

If you have a really strong sense that your project is worth doing, and you know yourself…if a little secret voice that’s not insecurity, that’s reality says “this one’s not great,” listen to it. But if that voice doesn’t show up, keep working on it. [I’ve had] material that I knew was right that was passed on at various times, but then by continuing to focus on it and work on it, I ended up getting a “yes” and finding out those people were wrong and I was right to believe in it. I have a real skepticism about gatekeepers and supposed experts and their ability to judge the value of something.

The Universality of Fear and the Will to Create

Gwenda Bond: Five Things I Learned Writing Lois Lane: Fallout

Describing the anxiety and self-doubt she felt regarding her capacity to do justice to her dream project, authoring a fiction novel centered around comic book icon Lois Lane, Gwenda Bond serves as an inspiring counterexample to our tendency to assume that our personal feelings of unworthiness are a strange and unique phenomenon.

With a side helping of terror and secret worries that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Because, truth is, I adore Lois Lane (and Superman) and always have. This was a dream project, dropping from the sky into my lap at the exact perfect moment when I could say yes and get started right away. But . . . what if I screwed it up? Well, you can’t be so afraid to screw up that you aren’t willing to try.

I had to channel my inner Lois and be determined to do my best, while developing the superpower of shutting out the worries about being the person who screwed up a showcase for one of the greatest characters ever created, one known around the entire world. I think, though, that this lesson is applicable beyond this specific book—at least, I plan to treat it that way. If we’re not challenging ourselves to do something a little or a lot terrifying as writers, where failure is possible and has consequences, then we probably should be making bolder choices. That mix of terror and determination is where good writing lives.

Nervousness and insecurity, while often interpreted as evidence that we’re out of our league, can actually be a confirmation of the exact opposite conclusion. The process of becoming superior versions of ourselves must inevitably lead to an unsettling confrontation between our attachment to the cozy nest of familiarity and the demanding possibilities of who we know we’re capable of becoming. Our true self is so much more magnificent than the ordinary roles we settle for playing, that when we catch even the slightest glimpse of it, we can feel paralyzed by a sense of overwhelm. Steven Pressfield , author of the War of Art, contends that the resistance we feel towards creative endeavor is nothing less than a confirmation sign that we’re on the right road:

If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

Bond’s experience and Pressfield’s advice is a call to nothing less than fearless creating. We must all find a way to dig deeply enough into the well of our creative potential until we find that which is more substantial than our doubt: the will to create, the power to convert uncomfortable feelings and unnerving emotions into creative energy, the determination to not run from our darker and more unpredictable psychological sensations, but to channel them along constructive lines.

Reflections on the Meaning of Art

What Is Art? Favorite Famous Definitions, from Antiquity to Today

Maria Popova demonstrates her usual curative brilliance by sharing a plethora of insights from various creators and thinkers about the nature of art. Below are my personal highlights from her list of favorites quotes and quips about the aesthetic enterprise.

Charles Eames, cited in the fantastic 100 Quotes by Charles Eames:

Art resides in the quality of doing; process is not magic.

This particular understanding demystifies the creative process and offers many an aspiring artist the opportunity to think about art in terms of what they actually do rather than in terms of how they feel or what they think of themselves. “I’m not creative,” “I’m not a writer,” or “I’m not the artsy-type,” are reasons offered by many who’ve abandoned their creative dreams because they didn’t see themselves in accordance some stereotypical or mystical image of what an artist should be. Sometimes we feel good and sometimes we feel bad. Sometimes we feel inspired and sometimes we feel unmoved. Sometimes we feel confident and sometimes we feel insecure. Sometimes the process of creating things makes us feel magical and alive, while sometimes the process of creating things seems somewhat neutral. Either way, our artistry is defined by the results we choose to create. After all the mystical experiences have transpired (or failed to transpire), the art of creating will still be about creating.

Francis Ford Coppola in a recent interview:

An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk.

Zig Ziglar once wrote, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” As I wrote in Preparation is What Happens While You Work,

Waiting for epiphanies, paradigm-shifts, irresistible sparks of inspiration, or whisperings from an exotic muse is nothing more than a mystical version of self-stultifying procrastination. If you want new beliefs, you have to explore new experiences by beginning new practices. The way to become the best version of yourself is by doing important, challenging, and noble work even when you don’t feel certain that you’re ready, worthy, or qualified to do so.

Michelangelo Pistoletto in Art’s Responsibility:

Above all, artists must not be only in art galleries or museums — they must be present in all possible activities. The artist must be the sponsor of thought in whatever endeavor people take on, at every level.

One of our world’s greatest needs is for people who their art as worth creating whether they’re rewarded with fame and fortune or not. Creating is not the special privilege of a select few. To be human is to create and the more we do it, the more humane our world becomes. As Maria Popova concludes in her own words,

This is the power of art: The power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life, and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity, more wholeheartedness.

The above reflections and notes are part of my personal development project for 2015. This post is my entry for (What I’m Learning: Day 23/365). To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I complete every week, click here.

Mental Prisons, The Madness of Being Normal, The Broken Widow Fallacy, & Why Curiosity Makes the Best Curriculum

Sean Stephenson on psychological power, the danger of self-pity, and how to break through the invisible fence of self-defeating thoughts

The prison of your mind | Sean Stephenson | TEDxIronwoodStatePrison

I was born to rid this word of insecurity. When a human being is insecure, they do stupid stuff. When we feel like we’re not enough, we chase external validation and external objects to tell us we’re enough.

Sean Stephenson is a therapist and motivational speaker. According to Wikipedia, “because he was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, Stephenson stands just three feet tall, has fragile bones, and must use a wheelchair.” Sean’s life is a living embodiment of Albert Camus’s observation that ‘The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.’ For Stephenson, freedom begins by liberating ourselves from faith in the necessity of disempowering beliefs:

Lesson # 1: Never believe a prediction that doesn’t empower you. When I was born, the doctors told my parents that I would be dead within the first twenty four hours of my life. Thirty five years later, all those doctors are dead and I am the only doctor that remains. Never believe a prediction that doesn’t empower you. How many predictions have been thrown at you your whole life? If you believe predictions that do not empower you, you will wither away and day; either physically die your spirit will die as you just walk around the world like a carcass that is just following the masses. You will be given a lot of titles in your life. You will be told so many different things. You must only listen to that which empowers you.

This advice is a reminder that facts, while in and of themselves, are unavoidable, we are free to decide for ourselves how such facts are to be interpreted. The fact that one is sick or poor, for instance, is typically regarded as an intrinsically negative fact. Testimonies like Stephenson’s provide evidence to the contrary. In the spirit of Hamlet’s “for there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so,” Stephenson presents a compelling example of the mind’s autonomous capacity to determine what it shall make of the facts. While reality make be unforgiving and unbending at times, experience belongs to the realm of the subjective and, as such, is the product of not only of reality, but also of the attitude we choose to adopt.

The real enemy that prevents us from accessing and appropriating our psychological power, is that socially acceptable and socially rewarding demon called “pity.” In exchange for the easy attention we receive from advertising our difficulties, we compromise our ability to see the possibilities that promise a higher quality of life:

You know what the worst drug that ever hit the human race is? Pity! The moment you feel sorry for another person or the moment you feel sorry for yourself, you are hosed. You are totally completely frozen in potential. We cannot pity ourselves. We cannot pity you.

The second lesson today is you are not your condition. I am not disabled. Sure, I’ll take the handicap parking privileges, but that does not define me as a man. Not able? I’ve been looked at and treated my whole life as if I am not able. I have had to rise above and show people that the only disability is one’s refusal to adapt. You have to adapt to whatever environment you’re in even if it’s prison. What does adaption look like? I think it looks like celebration. Because when you meet people that are celebrating their life, you want to be around them, you want to learn from them, you want to do business with them, you want to hire them. If you do not want to be seen as a prisoner or a convict when you get out of this, or even while you’re in this, then it’s an attitude, it’s a belief in yourself that you bring value to the human race no matter what your current condition, title, or stature is.

Stephenson challenges his listeners to be better than the good opinion of others by not limiting their options to what other people are merely okay with:

If I believe that I’m disabled, I would wither up, I would be shy, I would be insecure, I would be afraid, I would act like I need your help and the rest of humanity would be okay with that.

Stephenson concludes his inspiring and highly quotable talk by identifying the true nature of the prison that keeps us from living free and showing us how self-love is the way out:

I’m going to teach you what the real prison is. It’s not surrounded by barbed wire and electrical fences. The real prisons do not have guards. The real prison is up here (pointing to his head) and we all got it. We all have a mind that chatters and so often won’t stop chattering. Do you know where your salvation is? It’s not outside these walls. I’ve met so many people that are so extremely successful and famous and are in prison because they’re stuck in their minds bullying themselves and pitying themselves.

When you love yourself, whether you’re sleeping on a prison cot or in a mansion; whether you have food in your belly or you don’t know when your next meal is coming; when you love yourself, when you learn to master your emotions, then and only then are you free.

The phrase “master your emotions” is one that contains great power. Unfortunately, that power is often overlooked because of the conflation of two distinct responses to emotional life: that of suppressing or repressing one’s emotions and that of managing or mastering one’s emotions. The former is an act of denial and dishonesty which only leads to self-delusion and self-destruction. The latter is the graceful art of acknowledging and owning one’s feelings while creatively channeling emotional energy along constructive lines. Anger, sadness, jealousy, and all of the other so-called emotional states do not need to be pushed away, but rather redirected and put to good use. The antidote to suppressing one’s feelings isn’t to be driven by them in an unbridled manner, but to be proactive and self-determined about the process of collaborating with our emotions towards the end of creating a life that reflects our highest principles and priorities.

Jules Evans on the Madness Underlying our Efforts to Fit in

Coming to terms with the unruly gods of our inner jungle

Jules Evans recounts the recent experience of going out for pizza with a close lifelong friend. The only problem was that this friend was known for suffering from regular episodes of paranoid schizophrenic behavior resulting from an experiment with LSD that led to a psychotic breakdown at the age of 17. Describing the unpredictable nature of his friend’s state of mind, Evans writes, “Sometimes he is lost to this reality, too deep in the ocean of his own delusion and imagination. Sometimes he surfaces, and you can have a conversation with him, and your old friend is back from the depths.” Evan’s concern about going out for pizza with his friend was that his decision might be too big of a risk to handle. What if his friend says of does something embarrassing? What if his friend misses out on all those important social cues we need to recognize in order to fit in as a “normal” or unobtrusive member of society. Ironically, it was Evan, whose self-consciousness and insecurity led to some rather awkward behavior, that served as the source of discomfort, not his friend. The remorse he felt from the situation inspired him to think deeply about the everyday plight of trying to fit in and the creative challenges it poses to our need to be true to who we really are. Evans observes that so much of our energy is devoted to managing our brands, protecting our public personas, and making sure we’re behaving in a way that supports our social ambitions that we easily overlook the necessity of embracing our demons, owning our madness, harmonizing with our shadows, and loving our weirdness:

Being an adult in a highly civilised society like ours is hard. It takes a lot of self-control, emotional inhibition and social tact. We have to learn, from the age of six or so, to read social situations – which can often be bewilderingly complex and nuanced – and out of the million possible ways of responding to ambiguous social cues, we have to select a good response. Civilization is one long improv competition, on a stage watched by millions. To the best performers go wealth, status, power and sex. But those who miss their cues or disrupt the play end up isolated, unloved, ridiculed or ostracized.

We have to learn to play a role, to ‘prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet’. And this takes a lot of effort, because it means controlling and hiding any aspects of our psyche which might be deemed primitive, uncouth, or shameful. Behind our masks there is in fact a whole jungle of psychic energy, and we have to police that jungle and make sure no wild beasts stray into view.

People with mental illness, Evans observes, have such a difficult time being meet with acceptance because they not only disrupt our expectations, but because they present us with a more overt illustration our own inner battles, the inner tension we feel between the seemingly opposing forces at play in the construction and maintenance of our sense of self:

One of the reasons mental illness is still stigmatized is that it is embarrassing. People with mental illness don’t always behave according to the unspoken rules of politeness. Indeed, often they crash right through those rules. This causes shame and anxiety in the people around them, because we have put enormous psychic energy into learning and obeying the rules. The mad upset the consensual fiction of social reality (unless they happen to be powerful, in which case everyone must go along with their fiction).

That’s why sometimes families in which someone is mentally ill would in the past (and sometimes still in the present) hide them away in the countryside, or in an attic, or in an asylum. To save face. To preserve the front of politeness and self-control that enables them to fulfill their social ambitions. They put the approval of strangers before compassion for their family member.

Drawing on insights aquired from his own personal bouts with post traumatic stress disorder, Evan makes note of how his inner “earthquakes” paradoxically became more manageable only when he stopped fearing their capacity to ruin his social ambitions.

I recovered from my panic attacks when I stopped freaking out over what other people might think, and said to Pan, in effect, ‘OK, maybe some people will think I’m weird, so what?’ I had to learn to accept myself and put moral integrity before the false morality of social ambition. Only then, when I sat surrounded by the rubble of my social ambition, did Pan stop sending the earthquakes. I achieved a fragile truce between my social self and the unruly gods of my inner jungle.

Evans avoids the trap of presenting his thoughts as if they were the final word on the complex psychological phenomenon of making peace with oneself, but his article offers much food for thought for a social-media immersed world where the power to create, reinvent, manage, and destroy our publicly visible personas lies at our fingertips on a daily basis. At the very least, it’s an invitation to turn off auto-pilot and become conscious of the assumptions we allow to govern our lives when we suppress or express our ideas, impulses, and instincts for the sake of making sure we don’t lose our cherished positions of normalcy in society.

A Surprising Fact about Happiness

Albert Camus on Happiness, Unhappiness, and Our Self-Imposed Prisons

Camus on how we sabotage our happiness by insisting on our right to be right, prepared, and in control:

It is not true that the heart wears out — but the body creates this illusion.

Those who prefer their principles over their happiness, they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness. If they are happy by surprise, they find themselves disabled, unhappy to be deprived of their unhappiness.

Maria Popova adds:

“All true happiness, as all that is truly beautiful, can only result from order,” Benjamin Franklin wrote, and yet, as Camus so stirringly reminds us, order itself, when worshiped too blindly and rigidly, can consume our fragile chance of happiness.

Being agitated is a part of life. In spite of its inevitability and unpleasantness, however, we can significantly improve our lot for inner peace by resolving to not be agitated about the fact of being agitated. When we do so, we discover a surprising fact: there is a kind of happiness that can exist alongside unhappiness. But as with all the richest, deepest, and most enduring forms of happiness, we stand our greatest chance of tasting them if we entertain Camus’s invitation to be open to the unplanned and uncontrollable. When we force happiness to fit into our schedules, we find the time for it to be immensely more scarce.

Curiosity is the only Curriculum

Free at Last: The Sudbury Valley School by Daniel Greenberg (Pgs 11-25)

When a group of twelve boys and girls, aged nine to twelve, approached Daniel Greenberg, one of the founders of the Sudbury Valley School, and requested that he teach them how to do addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and all the other important principles of mathematics, he responded with skepticism. Suspicious that they were being driven by pressure from adults, he encouraged them to pursue subject matters they were genuinely interested in. After the children’s persistent refusal to withdraw their request, he laid down some basic ground rules, procured a good textbook that focused on practical application, and developed a lesson plan. Although he was committed to giving his best effort as a teacher, he still believed, in the back of his mind, that this little experiment wouldn’t last very long.

I knew that arithmetic took six years to teach in regular schools, and I was sure their interest would flag after a few months. But I had no choice. They had pressed hard, and I was concerned. I was surprised.

What unfolded over the next six months left Greenberg completely stunned. Not only had the children managed to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, but they went on to learn more advanced areas like long division, percentages, fractions, square roots, and decimals in only a fraction of the time it takes most students to learn such materials. But the surprises weren’t over at that point. Greenberg’s next big lesson came when he reported the children’s astounding rate of progress to math specialist.

A week after it was all over, I talked to Alan White, who had been an elementary math specialist for years in the public schools and knew all the latest and best pedagogical methods. I told him the story of my class. He was not surprised.

“Why not?” I asked, amazed at his response. I was still reeling from the pace and thoroughness with which my “dirty dozen” had learned.

“Because everyone knows,” he answered, “that the subject matter itself isn’t that hard. What’s hard, virtually impossible, is beating it into the heads of youngsters who hate every step. The only way we have a ghost of a chance is to hammer away at the stuff bit by bit every day for years. Even then it does not work. Most of the sixth graders are mathematical illiterates. Give me a kid who wants to learn the stuff — well, twenty hours or so makes sense.”

I guess it does. It’s never taken much more than that ever since.

This story, and so many others like it, provide a living example of the power that lies in adopting a pedagogy that encourages learners to follow Richard Feynmen’s advice to “study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.” In education, discipline must be the servant, not the master, of genuine interest and curiosity. When the goal of learning isn’t to please adults, pass tests, and avoid punishment, but is instead to seek out the knowledge and experiences that satisfy and ignite a student’s sense of wonder, the usual complications that arise from trying to coax people into being attentive and diligent are bound to fall away. The greater danger in education is not to underestimate how easy it is to learn, but to overestimate how important and effective it is to impose authoritarian agendas, however sincere they may be, on the learner’s organic process of exploration.

Greenberg claims that teaching is difficult at Sudbury Valley schools. This isn’t because of the hours spent developing lesson plans, disciplining the class, or grading papers though. It’s difficult because the teacher has to be willing to set aside their own sense of self-importance by demonstrating a willingness to get out of the student’s way whenever their involvement is not requested.

We get a lot of people writing the school asking to be hired as teachers. Many of them tell us at length how much they have to “give” to children. People like that don’t do too well at the school. What’s important to us is what the students want to take, not what the teachers want to give. That’s hard for a lot of professional teachers to grasp.

Classes end when either side has had enough of the deal. If the teachers find out they can’t deliver, they can back out — and the students have to find a new teacher if they still want a class. If the students discover they don’t want to go on, the teachers have to find some other way to occupy themselves at the appointed hour.

The most meaningful, enduring, and practical forms of learning happens when the learner learns what the learner wants to learn, when the learner wants to learn it, in a manner that’s consistent with how the learner wants to learn, and with whom the learner wants to learn. And as a corollary, the most meaningful, enduring, and practical forms of teaching are those which honor this form of learning.

Breaking Windows, Making Money, & Balancing the Books: Henry Hazlitt on Why Acts of Destruction Don’t Create Wealth

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt (Pgs 20-30)

Henry Hazlitt begins the second chapter of Economics in One Lesson by paying homage to Frédéric Bastiat’s Broken Window Fallacy. The Broken Window Fallacy refers to the error in logic that takes place when a person assumes that new forms of wealth or opportunity have been created as a result of acts of destruction. The slightly modified example given by Hazlitt — the original provided by Bastiat can be found in What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen — is that of a shopkeeper whose window is broken by an act of violence. The onlooker’s in this example, while they may condemn the act of violence, praise the outcome because of the newfound opportunity that’s been created for the person who makes their living repairing broken windows. The misfortune of the shopkeeper becomes the good fortune of the glassmaker. “Surely, this is a good thing,” some would reason. The problem with this kind of logic is that it only focuses on the benefits procured by the glassmaker. That is, it focuses on the seen while neglecting the unseen. What is the unseen? The unseen fact is that although the glassmaker has found fortune, his fortune must come at the expense of someone else who would have benefited from the shopkeeper’s demands. Say, for instance, that the shopkeeper want to buy a new suit. Let’s suppose that new suit costs $250. Further suppose that the cost to repair his broken window is also $250. That means his demand for a new suit must take a backseat to his necessity for a new window. So not only is the shopkeeper deprived of valuable resources — instead of having a window and a suit (or the money with which to buy a new suit), he now has only a window and nothing else — but the tailor who would have profited from the sale of a new suit is also deprived of an opportunity. As we can see from this example, acts of destruction do not create wealth, but they only reallocate the use of resources from the category of demands to the category of needs.

Seeing through such a fallacy is easy enough when it comes to small everyday maters like broken windows, but this line of thinking becomes far more pervasive and pernicious when politicians and economists assess the pros and cons of large scales events. In chapter three, The Blessings of Destruction, Hazlitt identifies the broken window fallacy as the culprit in a slew of macroeconomic missteps:

So we have finished with the broken window. An elementary fallacy. Anybody, one would think, would be able to avoid it after a few moments’ thought. Yet the broken-window fallacy, under a hundred disguises, is the most persistent in the history of economics. It is more rampant now than at any time in the past. It is solemnly reaffirmed every day by great captains of industry, by chambers of commerce, by labor union leaders, by editorial writers and newspaper columnists and radio commentators, by learned statisticians using the most refined techniques, by professors of economics in our best universities. In their various ways they all dilate upon the advantages of destruction. Though some of them would disdain to say that there are net benefits in small acts of destruction, they see almost endless benefits in enormous acts of destruction. They tell us how much better off economically we all are in war than in peace. They see “miracles of production”
which it requires a war to achieve. And they see a postwar world made certainly prosperous by an enormous “accumulated” or “backed-up” demand.

In Europe they joyously count the houses, the whole cities that have been leveled to the ground and that “will have to be replaced.” In America they count the houses that could not be built during the war, the nylon stockings that could not be supplied, the worn-out automobiles and tires, the obsolescent radios and refrigerators. They bring together formidable totals. It is merely our old friend, the broken-window fallacy, in new clothing, and grown fat beyond recognition.

Hazlitt spends the remainder of the chapter pointing out key economic distinctions like demands versus needs; explaining how supply and demand are really two sides of the same coin; and demonstrating how an increase in the money supply results in a decrease of purchasing power. The most pivotal point of the chapter, however, is his insight regarding how macroeconomic confusion is rooted in microeconomic confusion. We fail to recognize our fallacies with large matters because we carelessly slip into vague abstractions about collectives, hence losing sight of the fact that all economic realities begin with the individual:

No man would want to have his own property destroyed either in war or in peace. What is harmful or disastrous to an individual must be equally harmful or disastrous to the collection of individuals that make up a nation.

Many of the most frequent fallacies in economic reasoning come from the propensity, especially marked today, to think in terms of an abstraction—the collectivity, the “nation”—and to forget or ignore the individuals who make it up and give it meaning. No one could think that the destruction of war was an economic advantage who began by thinking first of all of the people whose property was destroyed.

The above reflections and notes are part of my personal development project for 2015. This post is my entry for (What I’m Learning: Day 22/365). To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I complete every week, click here.

Autonomous Learning Spaces, Freedom from the Pressure of Audiences, The Problems with Relativism, & How to Recognize a Good Economist (What I’m Learning: Day 21/365)

Sudbury Valley, Alternative Education, & the Power of Allowing/Challenging/Trusting Students to take Charge of their Own Learning Process

Free at Last: The Sudbury Valley School by Daniel Greenberg (Pgs 1-11)

Mission statement from the By Laws of the Sudbury Valley School

The Purpose for which this corporation is formed is to establish and maintain a school for the education of members of the community that is founded upon the principle that learning is best fostered by self-motivation, self-regulation, and self-criticism…

What would be the opposite? An educational system in which learning is believed to be best achieved through external-motivation, external-regulation, and external-criticism? And is this not precisely what we see in the realm of compulsory schooling today? Amidst all the fashionable noble-sounding talk we do about preparing the next generation for the future, we do precious little to show respect for the fact that the future is their burden to create. By orienting the learning process around external goals, external rewards, external bribes, external punishment, external rules, and external force, we teach children to react and respond to the universe as if it’s a place where external conditions are the driving forces in their lives. Then we bemoan their lack of initiative, their lack of self-determination, their lack of discipline, and so forth. As much as it threatens the political elites who wish to maintain the power to decide what’s best for everyone else, the open secret of education must be acknowledged: until the person who is being educated is allowed, trusted, respected, and challenged to take primary responsibility for every aspect of their education (ie. what they study, why they study it, when they study, how they study, with whom they study, etc.), all of our externally directed methods of reform will only result in superficial changes in a futile game of “who gets to be the boss” for power-obsessed adults while the very entities who should be at the center of education go ignored.

While I can’t speak for every aspect of the Sudbury Valley approach to education, the foundational principle quoted above is one which I believe we’d all be better off respecting. A student’s educational journey becomes successful not on the day when they get accepted into a college or at the moment when they receive a diploma or degree, but on the day when they embrace and express their power to create the results that matter most to them. The aim of learning isn’t to achieve validation from administrators, parents, or professors, but rather to make a lifelong practice of self-actualization. self-expression, and self-mastery. Regardless of our schooling or our lack thereof, we are educated only to the degree that we are empowered.

On what makes the Sudbury Valley approach distinct:

The school starts from a premise stated by Aristotle over 200 years ago in his famous opening to the Metaphysics: “Human beings are naturally curious.” This implies that people learn constantly, as an innate part of living. It means also that children will learn through following their natural inclinations, doing what they want with their time, all day, every day. Regardless of their ages, from the moment students enter the school, they are on their own, forced to take responsibility for themselves and make all the tough decisions that will determine the course of their lives. The school, with its staff, physical plant, equipment and library serves as a resource that is available when asked for, passive when not. The idea is simple: driven by innate curiosity, which is the essence of human nature, children will make enormous exertions to explore and master the world around them.

As far as learning and teaching were concerned, we wanted people to be able to learn only what they were eager to learn on their own initiative, what they insisted on learning, and what they were ready to work hard at. We wanted them to be entirely free to choose their own materials, and books, and teachers. We felt that the only learning that ever counts in life happens when the learners have thrown themselves into a subject on their own, without coaxing, or bribing, or pressure. And we were sure that teachers working with eager, determined, persistent students would experience unusual satisfaction. In fact, we thought that such an environment would be a paradise for students and teachers alike.

Most of the stress teachers feel is directly related to their struggles to get students to care about things that their students clearly don’t care about it. Rather than trusting and honoring the innate wisdom of the student’s curiosities and interests, we make their preferences and priorities subservient to abstract goals determined by people, most of whom, will never have to pay a price for the outcome of the student’s choices. Curiosity is not a distraction to learning. It’s the foundation of learning. Rather than teaching children to “focus” on things they don’t care about, we should encourage them to harness the power of their own capacity for intrigue. When we make our agendas the humble servant to the student’s curiosity, teaching becomes fun. Effective teaching has nothing to do with playing the role of the learning police. Effective teaching begins when the lesson plan hitches itself to the wagon of a child’s sense of wonder.

On the Sudbury Valley’s mission to foster a sense of responsibility among its students:

More than anything, we wanted people to experience the full meaning of responsibility. We wanted them to know what it is to be a responsible person — not just from books, or lectures, or sermons, but from everyday experience.

The way we saw it, responsibility means that you have to carry the ball for yourself. You, and you alone, must make your decisions, and you must live with them. No one should be thinking for you, and no one should be protecting you from the consequences of your actions. This, we felt, is essential if you want to be independent, self-directed, and the master of your own destiny.

The school we had in mind had to be rooted in this idea. We could not be satisfied with anything less than full personal responsibility and accountability for each person, regardless of age, or knowledge, or achievement. We knew that people would make mistakes this way — but they would know that the mistakes they made were their own, ans so they would be likelier to learn from them. We felt that healthy people would always find successes. We believed it a good thing to let people try whatever they want, whether or not they were sure to succeed, so that they would be mentally prepared to meet an unexpected challenge, or seize an unexpected opportunity.

Learning responsibility is not just a matter of content, but it’s also a matter of context. Students learn how to be responsible not by being forced to do tasks out of a fear of getting into trouble, but by being trusted and challenged to do the hardest (but most exciting) work of all: thinking carefully about what they want, deciding what actions they should take to create what they want, acknowledging and accepting the opportunity costs of their choices, owning their decisions, and learning to live with the consequences of their decisions. These sorts of lessons are simply not learned when such important decisions are constantly being made for them by adults who place a higher priority on forcing students to do the “right” thing than on teaching them how to think for themselves. If students don’t play a very large role in how they learn, the real power of what they learn is lost.

On how they teach children to think about authority:

Fear of power and authority was what we wanted to abolish from the school. We were not concerned about people having authority. Authority in and of itself can be good or bad, depending on many things. Some situations need persons in authority — and apprentice learning situation, for example, or a business. The main question is how people get their authority, and how it is controlled once they get it. You are not afraid of people in a position of power if you understand why they are there, and if you can keep an eye on everything they do. What you are afraid of is arbitrary authority, authority that excludes you from participation, over which you have no control. We were determined that no person in the school, whether student or staff or parent or guest, should have any cause to fear the authority of anyone associated with the school. This more than anything would make it possible for one person to look another straight in the eye regardless of age or sex or position or knowledge or background.

The failure to have a healthy skepticism towards authority it the source of much futility in our world. Consider all the people who feel cheated, ripped off, and victimized not because they didn’t have the power to choose, but because they chose to transfer the locus of such power to authority figures who they blindly believed would function as their saviors. This is not to say that we shouldn’t feel sympathy for such people. Pity them we must. Help them we must. Better still, however, strike the problem at its root by challenging educational systems that encourage and reward such self-victimizing mentalities. People don’t need to be arbitrarily rebellious, but they do need to learn how to think critically about what authority is, why it exists, when it matters, when it doesn’t matter, what it’s limits are, and how to detect and defend themselves against its abuses.

On the uniqueness of the Sudbury environment and the importance of not looking like a stereotypical school setting:

The place doesn’t look or feel like a school at all. The standard “school cues” are missing. It looks more like a home, with many persons going about their varied activities in a determined, yet relaxed, manner. The furniture, the people, and the ambience are not what one might expect to find. Visitors often feel baffled: they look for what they are used to seeing in schools, and don’t encounter it there.

Insights from the Diary of Søren Kierkegaard on writing, reading, the futility of obsessively aiming to please one’s audience, and the salvific effect of doing creative work.

Kierkegaard on Popular Opinion, the Petty Jealousies of Criticism, and the Only Cure for Embitterment in Creative Work

Popova begins by sharing Kierkegaard’s expression of his steadfast determination to remain undistracted by the whimsical and unpredictable demands of the audience in his imagination. For Kierkegaard, one does not stand the chance of becoming a good philosopher if his musings are audience driven rather than conviction driven:

Really, an author’s lot has gradually deteriorated to be the most wretched state of all. An author ordinarily must present himself … hat in hand, bowing and cringing, recommending himself with fine letters of introduction. How stupid: one who writes must understand that about which he writes better than he who reads; otherwise he would not write.

Or one must manage to become a shrewd little pocket-lawyer proficient at gulling the public. — That I will not do, no I won’t; no I won’t — no, the Devil take the whole caboodle. I write the way I want to, and that’s the way it’s going to be; the rest can do what they like, they can stop buying, stop reading, stop reviewing, etc.

The desire and demand for attention in the contemporary blogosphere can easily seduce the aspiring writer into believing that their craft is meaningless if they’re not successfully marketing their content to large audiences. Different writers have different philosophies on this subject, but my contention is that writing is most rewarding when it is approached as a spiritual practice above all else. I see Ernest Hemingway’s way advice to “Write the truest sentence that you know.” as the means and end of writing. While writing is a powerful tool for selling products or influencing people, it’s most effective and fulfilling when the writer is writing things that he or she truly believes, deeply feels, and actually lives. Whenever one’s concern about audiences gets in the way of self-authenticity and self-actualization, nothing worth having follows.

One other noteworthy passage Popova shares gives us a glimpse of Kierkegaard’s philosophy regarding the selection of reading materials:

Everyone today can write a fairly decent article about all and everything; but no one can or will bear the strenuous work of following through a single solitary thought into the most tenuous logical ramifications. Instead, writing trivia is particularly appreciated today, and whoever writes a big book almost invites ridicule. In former days people read big books, and if they did read pamphlets or periodicals they did not quite like to admit it. Now everyone feels duty bound to read what is printed in a periodical or a pamphlet, but is ashamed to have read a big book through to the end, and he fears he may be considered weak in the head.

I therefore have decided to read only the writings of men who have been executed or have risked their lives in some way.

Kierkegaard’s insistence on reading “only the writings of men who have been executed or have risked their lives in some way” may seem a bit overboard or strict, but it conveys a standard that might be useful to the modern reader. As thousands of new blog posts, podcast episodes, pamphlets, and digital books are being published every single day, it behooves the avid learner to abide by a carefully chosen set of guidelines for content consumption. The inescapable fact that pervades the marketplace of ideas is that everything is not worth reading, watching or listening to. One must consciously determine his or her aim and structure their study habits accordingly.

True For You, But Not For Me: Reflections on the Fallacy & Futility of Relativism

Tim Williamson on the Appeal of Relativism

Tim Williamson is a professor of Logic at Oxford University. In his discussion with Nigel Warburton, he talks about the nature of relativism, what makes it so appealing, the shortcomings and dangers of thinking this way, and why it’s a self-refuting and incoherent point of view.

Contrasting relativism with objectivism, the belief that some statements are either true or false independently of the preferences, tastes, and opinions of individuals or groups of individuals, Williamson briefly explains the position of the relativist:

The relativist is someone who doesn’t want to say “I’m right and you’re wrong;” who thinks that everyone has their own point of view; that their point of view is right from its point of view, but not from a different one; and that there’s no bottom line below that about who’s really right and who’s really wrong.

Williamson is careful to distinguish matters of taste from matters of truth. The deliciousness of chocolate ice cream, for instance, may be a matter of taste with no objective criteria for determining the rightness or wrongness of the matter. That is, chocolate ice cream might be delicious to one person while unpleasant to another. When we make claims about the world, however, as opposed to mere claims about our subjective experiences, our claims are capable of being true or false depending on their agreement with certain facts or conditions. If a revisionist historian denies that the Holocaust ever took place, for instance, they would be making a claim that is either true or false. The reality (or non-reality) of past events does not change with our desire for them to be true or untrue. Even though we may disagree about certain things, the difficulties we experience when attempting to settle debates are not evidence for the claim that there is no such thing as truth.

The mere fact that there’s no scientific test that something is the case doesn’t mean that there’s no truth of the matter.

There’s a difference between what’s true and what’s known. If something is unknown, it doesn’t follow that it’s untrue. For example, nobody knows whether there’s life on other planets, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no truth as to whether there’s life on other planets.

Anticipating the objection of the pragmatist who claims that truth, by definition, is that which provides utility, Williamson argues that pragmatism, while useful as a method for organizing our priorities, is inadequate as a theory of truth because it excludes meaningful propositions merely on account on their lack of their lack of usefulness.

Someone like William James seems to have thought the truth is bound up with what we can actually find to be useful, but that’s not a view which has stood the test of time very well. Either there was a mammoth standing on the spot where we now are a hundred thousand years ago or there wasn’t. Nobody’s ever going to find out whether there was or not…Whether there was a mammoth here doesn’t depend on whether it’s useful for us to think that there was. And partly what pragmatist may be insisting on is that there’s no point in asserting that there was a mammoth here or in denying it if we don’t know which, but we don’t need to assert or deny it for it to make sense to say that it’s a meaningful question. It’s just not a question that we’re not in a position to answer.

According to Williamson, the relativist is driven by the fear of being offensive or the concern about appearing close-minded more than they are by an accurate understanding of the relationship between ideas:

They’re afraid that if we have a non-relative of view truth where some things are just true and others are just false, then we’re going to be in the position of saying to people we disagree with “I’m right and you’re wrong” and that’s the kind of thing that we say when we’ve failed to persuade somebody and we’re just insisting on our point of view and, as it were, at that point it seems to come down to a question of power: that whichever one of us is stronger is going to be the one that prevails irrespective of the arguments. And so the relativists tend to think that by avoiding talk of absolute truth and absolute falsity, we can somehow escape from that position where we’re imposing our view on other people.

Many people use religious dogmatism as an example of how a belief in absolute truth can go wrong. While there certainly exists people who speak authoritatively about their beliefs in a close-minded, overconfident, and immodest way, Williamson argues that there is no necessary connection between being a dogmatist and affirming the existence of truth:

The connection that relativist think they see between absolute truth and dogmatism isn’t really there. You can believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth without thinking that you’re in a position to be certain about what it is.

Another common objection raised against the belief in objective truth is that such a view is responsible for the imposition of western values on non-western cultures. Williamson argues that our concern about the imposition of western values is itself an indicator that we aren’t neutral about the truth-value of different points of view. While it may be tragic or unfair for one group of people to impose their views on another group of people, that doesn’t mean that all views are equal.

The people on whom the West was imposing its value and culture were not themselves relativists. They were also people who had their own points of view which they didn’t simply regard as one point of view amongst many. They were just as committed to it as the West was committed to its point of view. It’s simply that they had less military power and so they lost at least in the short-term.

Williamson further makes his case against the incoherence of relativism by showing how the very ability to make distinctions, which is essential for any kind of thinking, relies on the presupposition that some ways of thinking are not equal to other ways of thinking:

The difficulty with relativism about truth is to formulate it as a coherent doctrine. A philosopher who’s often thought of as a relativist about truth, and who did say some things along those lines is Nietzsche, but even he clearly had his own beliefs about how things are and regarded people who disagreed with him as profoundly mistaken. What I’ve been arguing is that just by thinking things, you’re committed to a kind of asymmetry between those who think that way and those who think in some opposite way. It’s a point about what you’re logically committed to in thinking anything. If you have a point of view at all, you’re thinking things are some way and so that implies that there’s an asymmetry between people who think they’re that way and people who think they’re not that way.

People do have disagreements about logic. We can certainly consider the possibility that some of our logical reasoning is mistaken, but if you don’t have any form of reasoning, then nothing that you think has any consequences. So there’s no point in thinking anything.

The mere act of forming a specific thought commits us to the view that we are thinking about some things while simultaneously not thinking about other things. The moment I choose to think I thought, I am logically compelled to affirm that I am thinking about that particular thought and not something else. Suppose for instance that I am thinking about cats. It would be false, under such a circumstance, for someone to say I am not thinking about cats. Or suppose I am feeling sad over the loss of a loved one. It would be false for someone to say I am not feeling sad. If I am thinking about the amount of money in my back account right now, it would be false for someone assert that I am not actually thinking about the amount of money in my bank account right now. Williamson contends that this simple fact of logic is undeniable, but that we’re driven to deny it because we’re afraid it would make us arrogant to say that another person’s claims are false. The antidote to arrogance, authoritarianism, and dogmatism, however, is not the denial of truth, but rather the determination to remain humble in our claims about what we know and respectful in our efforts to communicate it.

Williamson concludes his discussion by showing how relativism ultimately contradicts itself:

Relativism, even if it’s not, at least in its own qualified form, a consistent position, is still something that many people in contemporary western society are attracted by. That may be confusion, but confusion itself can be very influential. For example, you see people making claims that all points of view are of equal value forgetting that that is itself a point of view and presumably they’re claiming that that’s of no more value than the point of view that some points of view are more valuable than others. I think it’s possible to undermine one’s own thinking and one’s own capacity for moral action through confusion.

The conclusion of Williamson’s argument here is difficult to deny. He challenges us to consider two propositions:

Proposition #1: Some ideas are better than others.

Proposition #2: All ideas are equal.

While proposition # 2 is more politically correct, it’s actually self-defeating. If proposition # 2 is true, then one is forced to also accept proposition # 1. In other words, it would be inconsistent for someone to say “all ideas are equal” while condemning the intolerance of those who assert that “some ideas are better than others.” If all ideas are truly equal, then the idea that some ideas are better than others must be equally embraced. But since the idea that some ideas are better than others contradicts the idea that all ideas are equal, the idea that all ideas are equal is self-defeating. The only way to avoid this trap is to accept the fact that some ideas are truly better than others while rejecting the notion that one must be arrogant or close-minded to affirm this.

For Williamson, the current popularity of relativism is a sad reality. “It’s disappointing when people are satisfied with a cheap slogan as a solution to really serious problems about how we live at peace with people with whom we profoundly disagree,” he says.

Perhaps philosophers like Williamson and shows like Philosophy Bites will eventually succeed at convincing people that it’s possible to be logical, rational, and objective in our pursuit of truth without being mean-spirited towards those who disagree with us or overconfident in our own estimation of what we know.

Henry Hazlitt’s Insights on How to See Through Economic Fallacies & Where to Draw the Line of Demarcation Between Good Economists and Bad Economists

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

On the plight and cause of economic fallacies:

Economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other study known to man. This is no accident. The inherent difficulties of the subject would be great enough in any case, but they are multiplied a thousandfold by a factor that is insignificant in, say, physics, mathematics, or medicine—the special pleading of selfish interests. While every group has certain economic interests identical with those of all groups, every group has also, as we shall see, interests antagonistic to those of all other groups. While certain public policies would in the long run benefit everybody, other policies would benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups. The group that would benefit by such policies, having such a direct interest in them, will argue for them plausibly and persistently. It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case. And it will finally either convince the general public that its case is sound, or so befuddle it that clear thinking on the subject becomes next to impossible

In addition to these endless pleadings of self-interest, there is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.

On the essential difference between a good economist and a bad economist:

In this lies almost the whole difference between good economics and bad. The bad economist sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good economist also looks beyond. The bad economist sees only the direct consequences of a proposed course; the good economist looks also at the longer and indirect consequences. The bad economist sees only what the effect of a given policy has been or will be on one particular group; the good economist inquires also what the effect of the policy will be on all groups.

On the fundamental lesson upon which the whole of economics rests:

…the whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate hut at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

Nine-tenths of the economic fallacies that are working such dreadful harm in the world today are the result of ignoring this lesson. Those fallacies all stem from one of two central fallacies, or both: that of looking only at the immediate consequences of an act or proposal, and that of looking at the consequences only for a particular group to the neglect of other groups.

Arthur Zajonc on Knowledge as an Invitation to Inquiry

Love as Moral Knowing (Farnam Street Blog)

In this short article from the Farnham Street Blog, Shane Parrish shares insights from an interview with Arthur Zajonc, author of Meditation As Contemplative Inquiry: When Knowing Becomes Love. The passage that gave me pause was Zajonc concise but compelling insight into the nature of knowledge:

Knowledge is not something you can just move across the table, and the other person has it. It’s an invitation to exploration to think, to ideate.

The Christian apologist, Gregory Koukl once described critical thinking as a process that “cannot be taught, but must instead be caught.” This echoes what Zajonc is saying here. In our efforts to learn and teach, we must strive to remember that the cultivation of knowledge is a dynamic process that unfolds over time, not a static one-time experience that can be achieved by having someone tell you what to think.



Today I release myself from the pressure to perform and produce. While still recognizing and respecting the value in my work, I also choose to allow time for reflection, relaxation, and recreation. By periodically taking a step back from my everyday goal oriented focus, I am able to connect to a broader view that enables me to give greater context to my actions. Rather than see myself as wasting time, I see myself as aligning with a Creative Energy which transcends time. I can accomplish more in 30 minutes by standing still and releasing my resistance to life, than I can achieve in 30 hours by attempting to force my desires into manifestation. I affirm the power of slowing down by making myself available to the silence and space within my heart and mind.

I am attending a retreat this week where there is a no-screen policy. This means that apart from emergencies, the attendees will not be able to use their wireless devices, tablets, or computers.

I will be attempting to put into practice, in my own unique way, a technique described by Chuck Norris in The Secret Power Within as “Slowing Down to Go Faster.” Recounting a conversation during a training session with Bruce Lee, Norris said the following,

Bruce: No matter how much I tried I was unable to block your kicks. What am I doing wrong?

Chuck: You tried to speed your blocks up. And your timing was off. Like when I practice sticky hands [a wing chun technique] with you. When you try to faster, you score on me repeatedly. If I am getting faster, it’s because I’ve slowed down, and that’s what I’m suggesting to you. Pace yourself, attend to everything in its own sweet time, and you’ll accomplish more than if you go all out at every opportunity. Slow down and you’ll go faster…Breaking down a martial arts move means doing ti slowly, and I found that by moving slowly, I could sense what was meant to be the inner balance of the move, each step serving its own specific purpose. Having sensed that inner balance and learned to adjust my body to it, and having discovered the importance of including each move, I found I could speed up the moves at will, performing them quickly or slowly with the same accuracy…At first the notion o slowing down so he could go faster seemed contradictory to Bruce. But he did as I suggested and soon found that I was right. He forced himself to relax then explode, and then relax again. His blocks and kicks improved.

I won’t be throwing any punches or kicks, but I will be off the grid this week. I will not be posting daily updates from my personal development project until next week. Since most of my PDP activities are done via computer, I will still do the physical exercise portion of my project, but I will be substituting 2-3 hours of daily reading for the other activities.

In other news, I wrote an article for the Praxis blog yesterday called A Note to Young Dreamers Who Don’t Feel Supported by Family & Friends. If you or someone you know is in such a situation, feel free to share the article with them.


T.K. Coleman

What I’m Learning: Day 20/365

“[What’s exciting is] the actual process of broadening yourself, of knowing there’s now a little extra facet of the universe you know about and can think about and can understand. It seems to me that when it’s time to die, there would be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well, learned as much as you could, gathered in as much as possible of the universe, and enjoyed it. There’s only this one universe and only this one lifetime to try to grasp it. And while it is inconceivable that anyone can grasp more than a tiny portion of it, at least you can do that much. What a tragedy just to pass through and get nothing out of it.” -Isaac Asimov

To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I completed yesterday, click here.

Activity IV: Read for one hour

Free to Learn by Peter Gray (Pgs 212-235/Book now finished)

On our culture’s tendency to underestimate the abilities and autonomy of children:

I doubt there has ever been a human culture, anywhere, at any time, that underestimates children’s abilities more than we North Americans do today. Our underestimation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because by depriving children of freedom, we deprive them of the opportunities they need to learn how to take control of their own behavior and emotions.

On trustful parenting:

Trustful parents trust their children to play and explore on their own, to make their own decisions, to take risks, and to learn from their mistakes. Trustful parents do not meausre or try to direct their children’s development, because they trust children to do so on their own. Trustful parents are not negligent parents. They provide not just freedom, but also the sustenance, love, respect, moral examples, and environmental conditions required for healthy development. They support, rather than try to direct, children’s development, by helping children achieve their own goals when such help is requested.

On the message that trustful parenting sends to our children:

You are competent. You have eyes and a brain and can figure things out. You know your own abilities and limitations. Through play and exploration you will learn what you need to know. Your needs are valued. Your opinions count. You are responsible for your own mistakes and can be trusted to learn from them. Social life is not the pitting of will against will, but the helping of one another so that all can have what they need and most desire. We are with you, not against you.

On the myth that children are best protected against future unemployment by orienting their childhood activities around schooling rather than play:

The world of employment is less stable now than it was a few decades ago. It’s impossible to predict what jobs will be available in the future or what job skills will be required…Companies and whole industries sprout up and disappear with unsettling frequency. A result of all this is that parents worry about their children’s abilities to make a living more than they did in times past, and this contributes to their increased tendency to view childhood as a time of resume building rather than a time of play. Somehow, parents believe, if they can get their children into the right adult-directed extracurricular or volunteer activities, get them to achieve high scores on tests, and get them into the most prestigious schools, they can protect their children’s futures. They are wrong of course, but the perception persists.

The reality is that the best protection against unemployment in uncertain times is having precisely those qualities people develop through self-directed experiences, not through the prodding of parents or teachers. Uncertain times require unique personal responsibility, independence of thought, self-initiative, self-assertion, flexibility, creativity, imagination, and willingness to take risks. These are the characteristics fostered by the trustful style of parenting and inhibited by the directive-protective style.

On how school-centric thinking has adversely affected our concept of child development and parenting:

In addition to its direct influence on families lives, the school system has had an even more pervasive indirect influence. Increasingly, researchers, parents, and society at large have come to view all of childhood through the lens of schooling. Everyone categorizes children according to their grade in school. Most research studies of children are conducted in schools and focus on school issues and concerns. The result is a school-centric view of child development that distorts human nature.

In schools, learning is adult-directed, not child-directed. In schools, learning is considered to be sequential, along established pathways. You have to learn A before you learn B. In schools, children’s companions are all the same age — there is no learning of skills through play with older kids, or of responsibility through play with younger ones. In schools, self-initiated play and exploration are disruptions. All these are components of the school-centric model of child development. As a result, people have come to believe that learning is fundamentally sequential and adult-directed, that the proper companions are other children of the same age, and that self-directed play and exploration are largely a waste of time for children beyond the age of four or five. Developmental psychology textbooks, for example, commonly refer to the preschool years as “the play years,” as if play naturally stops or takes backseat after that. We have allowed the schooling system to blind us to the natural ways of children.

On the importance of giving children the opportunity to learn, grow, and choose on their own:

If we value freedom and personal responsibility, we must respect our children’s rights to chart their own lives. Our ambitions cannot be theirs, and vice versa. The self-charting begins in infancy. To learn responsibility, children must learn how to make their own decisions in the course of each hour, day, and year, and they can learn that only by practicing it. All loving, caring parents care about their children’s futures, so it can be hard not to try to control them. But the attempts at control defeats its goals. When we try to determine our children’s destinies, we prevent them from  taking ownership of their own lives. When we try to pilot our children through the daily and weekly mazes of life, we prevent them from practicing their own piloting and learning from their own mistakes. When we offer our children advice they didn’t ask for and don’t need, we reduce the chance that they will ask us for advice when they do want and need it.

On the need to let children define success for themselves:

Whether your child succeeds or fails is up to your child, not you, and the measure of success or failure must be your child’s, not yours. The world is full of unhappy lawyers, doctors, and business executives, and many clerks and janitors are happy, fulfilled, and decent. Career success is not life success. You can be happy or unhappy in any profession, but you can’t be happy, at least not for long stretches, if you feel that your life is not yours. These are truisms. They may sound trite. But too many people forget them when it comes to their child-care practices.

On the real reason why education reform fails:

Almost everyone involved in the education enterprise considers himself or herself to be a “reformer,” in tacit acknowledgement that the current system doesn’t work. This has been true since the dawn of compulsory schooling. Some want to reform the system by nudging it one way (maybe by offering a few more choices and lightening up a little on the testing), while others want to reform it by nudging it the other way (with an even more standardized curriculum and more rigorous testing). This is the stuff of countless books and articles written by professors of education. But no one in the education establishment is willing to admit that coercive schooling doesn’t work precisely because it i coercive and that the only meaningful reform is one that puts kids in charge of their own learning.

On why he’s optimistic about the future of education:

History tells us that when people see freedom as a viable option, they choose it. When adults see that coercive schooling isn’t necessary for success in the culture, they will find it hard not to choose freedom for their kids, and the kids themselves will demand it. Children will no longer buy the argument that schooling is bad-tasting medicine that must be endured because it is necessary or good for them. As more people leave the coercive school system, a significant bloc of voters will begin to demand that some of the public education money that’s been freed up be used to help support kids’ self-directed learning, to provide educational opportunities rather than coercion. Think of what could be done with even a fraction of the roughly $600 billion of taxpayer money that is currently spent on coercive K-12 schools every year in the United States.

The decline in coercive schools and the rise in voluntary educational opportunities will be gradual, but eventually the coercive system will fade away. And then we will witness a full renewal of children’s capacities for self-control and desire to learn, and an end to the epidemic of anxiety, depression, and feelings of helplessness that plague so many youth today.

Activity VIII: Listen to one EconTalk podcast

Caplan on Parenting
EconTalk Episode with Bryan Caplan

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

In this episode, Bryan Caplan explains why he thinks parenting isn’t as difficult or expensive as so many seem to think it is:

It is true that parents push themselves very hard today. Actually, they spend more time taking care of their kids than they did during the baby boom suprisingly enough. But a lot of what they’re doing is based on the idea that they have to do a lot of unpleasant things for their kids in order to protect their kids’ future. So you have to do a lot of different activities with them, you have to ride them very hard, so that they can succeed in today’s tough competitive world. The kids often push back on this and many people feel like if you’re a decent parent, you have to make your kid unhappy now in a lot of ways in order to give your kids a decent future. And so, a lot of what’s going on is that people are doing things that aren’t very fun, they’re stressing, and they’re stressing their kids on the theory that if they do so there will be some longer benefits. And this brings us to the million dollar question which is, “does all of this parental investment, parental effort an sacrifice pay off?”

Caplan then explains how the nature/nurture debate has gone on for a very long time without much progress. We now know things, according to Caplan, that gives us plenty of reason to believe that we overestimate the extent to which we affect the long-term behavior of our children. Bryan concedes the point that parental styles do have an impact, but the nature and longevity of that impact is radically different from what we typically suppose.

It certainly has an impact of some kind. A lot of what I talk about in the book is precisely what kind is it and how long does it last. It’s one thing to say that you see the effect on your kids right now. Certainly I see that. Everyone sees it. Your child’s misbehaving, you punish him, his behavior temporarily improves. But the question is, “how long does that improvement lasts?”

One you take a look at the adoption/twin evidence, the big punchline, which is very surprising, is that parents turn out to have surprisingly very little effect on long-run outcomes of how their kids turn out…on almost all the things parent care about actually.

So what I wound up doing in the book is looking at adoption/twin evidence on health, on intelligence, on happiness, on educational success, on occupational/career/financial success, on character, on values, religion, politics, in all these areas, the effect of parents turn out to be surprisingly small.

If it really is true that parents are not having a large long-run effect on their kids, then a lot of the unpleasantness that parents currently experience actually is really not unnecessary. You can responsibly, and in good faith as a parent, stop pushing your kids so hard and focus more on doing things that you enjoy. So if there’s things you really don’t like and your child also doesn’t like, then it does become a no-brainer to stop doing those.

Once you adjust your parenting style to take out a lot of this unpleasantness, this basically means that the kids you want are cheaper than you think. You can get a decent well-adjusted successful child, your child will turn out to be a decent well-adjusted successful adult, even if you don’t do a lot of this unpleasant stuff…which basically means that kids you want are cheaper than you think, so stock up. While parenting still has its challenges, as do all forms of human relationships, many of the challenges are exaggerated based on falsified ideas about how much work parents need to be doing.

For Caplan, if you want to have kids, have kids. Most of the reasons for why we should be so afraid are overhyped.

Activity XII: Read one Blog Post from Favorites List

30 Things People (You) Need To Stop Doing Right Now by Ryan Holiday


Stop lying to yourself about how much you need to work. Sleep is important, family is important, reflection is important. Pushing yourself past the point of diminishing returns is not.

Don’t get outraged by random stuff you read online. First off, a lot of it is more complicated than it first appears. Second, this reaction is profitable for publishers and they deliberately exploit it. Third, outrage doesn’t solve problems. Sober discussion and solutions do.

When idle chit chat is dying off naturally, don’t revive it. That’s like the kid who reminds the teacher about homework. Just because you can’t deal with the void of silence doesn’t mean everyone else has to hear more noise. Let things drift towards their end, it’s a chance for reflection.

Stop blaming other people (especially when it would be natural to assume its their fault). Accept what responsibility you can in every situation. You’ll be better for it.

In fact, most of these rules can be deduced by asking: “What would it be like if everyone else was doing this at the same time?” If the answer is unpleasant, you should stop doing it right now.

Stop saying things just because you want people to know you know something.

Don’t compare yourself to other people. Run your own race.

Stop saying ‘I wish I could read more’ or ‘I need to read more.’ Just do it. Make time. It’s important. Don’t act like it’s in anyone else’s control but yours.

Stop commenting on blogs (even this one), it’s almost certainly a waste of your time (who cares if someone is right or wrong) on the internet.

Don’t share something you haven’t actually read. Not just because the internet is terribly misleading and headlines exploit our worst impulses. Sending something to someone is not free–it costs them time to look at. You’re abusing their trust in you.

The final one is this: Stop pretending that other people know better. They don’t. And you’ll be happier and less resentful if you just assume they have no control over these things. You do control your own behavior, so focus on that…whether it’s rewarded or acknowledged or not. As one philosopher put it, pretend that everyone else is hemmed in by predetermination but that you, and you alone, have been given free-will. Because when you give up the misguided notion that they are in control and focus solely on the fact that you in fact are in control, the whining petulance stops and the magnanimity can begin.

What I’m Learning: Day 19/365

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” ― Socrates

To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I completed yesterday, click here.

Activity IV: Read for one hour

Free to Learn by Peter Gray

Activity VII: Read one brainpickings article

A Book Is a Heart That Only Beats in the Chest of Another: Rebecca Solnit on the Solitary Intimacy of Reading and Writing

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

Rebecca Solnit on the relationship between reading and writing:

Like many others who turned into writers, I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods. What surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and the solitude, that I came out that other side and met people there. Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.

Rebecca Solnit on the power of books and the manner in which they transformed her life:

The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the symphony resounds, the seed germinates. A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another. The child I once was read constantly and hardly spoke, because she was ambivalent about the merits of communication, about the risks of being mocked or punished or exposed. The idea of being understood and encouraged, of recognizing herself in another, of affirmation, had hardly occurred to her and neither had the idea that she had something to give others. So she read, taking in words in huge quantities, a children’s and then an adult’s novel a day for many years, seven books a week or so, gorging on books, fasting on speech, carrying piles of books home from the library.

Rebecca SolnitOn  on writing as a conversion with no one and everyone:

Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest. Every once in a while I try to say them aloud and find that what turns to mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers. Said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading. Is it the shared solitude of writing, is it that separately we all reside in a place deeper than society, even the society of two? Is it that the tongue fails where the fingers succeed, in telling truths so lengthy and nuanced that they are almost impossible aloud?

Activity VIII: Listen to one EconTalk podcast

The Economics of Paternalism

Economist Ed Glaeser of Harvard University talks with host Russ Roberts about the dangers of soft paternalism–various forms of government regulation that fall short of outright bans or taxes but that are meant to correct alleged flaws in the choices we make. Glaeser argues that while individuals do inevitably make mistakes, so do politicians, and the concentration of power in the hands of the few makes government “benevolence” particularly dangerous.

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

Ed Glaeser, an economics professor at Harvard University, discusses the distinction between hard paternalism and soft paternalism. He defines hard paternalism as forms of legislation that explicitly outlaw or penalize our unhealthy or flawed choices. Soft paternalism, on the other hand, is understood as a way of discouraging certain kinds of choices (ie. warning labels on cigarettes) without directly infringing on people’s freedom to choose. Glaeser then argues against both forms paternalism. He then makes a case for why the motives and abilities of political actors should be treated with the same healthy skepticism that we’d apply towards anyone else. While it is true that people often make unhealthy and self-destructive choices, he argues that the consequences are even worse when we give the government a monopoly on violence for the sake of forcing us to make choices that a particular group of politicians deem healthy, right, or good.

Among the many interesting points made by Glaeser, I particularly enjoyed the excerpt where discussed how how understanding the belief formation process in terms of supply and demand can help make sense out of why certain regulations and policies are passed in spite of the harm it does to the people they’re designed to help:

I think that the central lesson of psychology is that our beliefs are enormously manipulable. We actually believe things most of the time because we’ve been told them, not because we’ve seen hard evidence for them…Once you recognize that beliefs are formed by our friends, our neighbors, what we hear, what we read, it suggests a huge role for the suppliers of belief — be they ministers, be they politicians, be they friends out there to convince other friends — who then are the actors who help change people’s beliefs. Historically, there has been this whole array of people who recognize that there are profit opportunities and political strength to be gained by convincing people of things…This is why I think economics has so much to add to psychology. The only way that you understand the market is by thinking about the interaction between supply and demand. Only by thinking about beliefs as being supplied by suppliers of beliefs interacting with consumers, we will we actually make sense of the things we believe. In any sensible model like this, you come up with the view that you expect to see more errors when you have highly incentivized suppliers interacting with unincentivized consumers. In the case of buying ice cream or razor blades, consumers have a fairly strong incentive to get it right. It’s not all that easy to convince guys that some crappy razor is incredibly good to use because you have to put up with that crappy razor and after you use it, you get some feedback on it. In the case of politics, you have strongly incentivized suppliers who really want to capture government, who really want to win elections so that they can impose their own policies. At the same time, they’re interacting citizens who really don’t have strong incentives to figure out if we send more medicaid or foreign aid. It’s not like that knowledge. It’s not like that knowledge is going to make some huge difference in terms of their everyday life. So why should they go out and undergo the pain and suffering of actually figuring out where those dollars are being spent. As a result, he policy world is one in which there’s tremendous scope for error because of these highly incentivized suppliers pushing around beliefs.

Using smoking and cigarettes as an example, Glaeser also makes the point that soft paternalism almost always leads to hard paternalism. He also discusses the gay rights issue and argues that most of the problems that surround this topic are result of governmental paternalism. He also talks about negative externalities and discusses how we can think about them within a framework that honors individual choice.

Activity IX: Listen to Philosophy Bites podcast

MM McCabe on Socratic Method

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

In this episode, MM McCabe discusses the life of Socrates and the style of questioning that defined his legacy. She describes Socrates as a physically ugly man who quickly came to irritate the politically and intellectually elite of Athens with his penetrating and incisive questions about knowledge and ethics. Socrates became such a source of annoyance to those who didn’t like his questions or to those who were threatened by his emphasis on critical, that he was eventually charged with corrupting the youth of Athens and sentenced to death by being forced to drink hemlock. McCabe goes into detail discussing what’s unique and important about the Socratic Method, a term philosophers use to refer to his particular style of questioning.

One significant aspect of the Socratic Method, according to MM McCabe, is that it isn’t merely a matter of pressing oneself or others to provide evidence for a particular point of view, but it’s also a systematic attempt to evaluate the coherence or internal consistency of one’s broader worldview. That is, the Socratic Method is aimed at developing a deeper understanding of how all our beliefs fit together. Additionally, she points out that the Socratic Method embodies the conviction that philosophy is a conversation and collaborative enterprise. Thinking about our beliefs is not just a matter of isolating ourselves and working out the problems of life in solitude, but of also engaging others and allowing them to engage us about the concepts we live by. For Socrates, philosophy is essentially a social activity. One of the most widely known sayings of Socrates is “The unexamined life is not worth living.” According to McMcabe, Socrates was just saying that we need to examine the lives we lead, but that we also need to lead lives of examining.

McCabe believes that this Socratic approach is essential to effective education:

If we’re involved in education at all, whether we’re being educated or doing the educating, it’s not only a good thing to do, but it’s a fundamental feature of how people need to be educated. To discuss with people in this open-minded, open-ended way that allows them to reflect on what they think and us to reflect on what we think without telling, without dogma, without insistence, and without imperative, to ask people to think about what they really think. And what that asks them to do is, if you like, to be true to themselves, asks them to be sincere about their beliefs, to be honest.

McCabe also claims that Socrates would not recognize the approach to education universities take today:

The standard ways that we have of teaching in universities are ways that Socrates wouldn’t recognize…It’s actually very hard to lecture Socratically. Socrates really wouldn’t approve, he certainly wouldn’t approve examinations in the contemporary sense…He wouldn’t like bite-sized, if you’ll forgive my putting it that way, courses. He wouldn’t think you could start here and finish there and get it right about metaphysics. I think perhaps the way to think about it is this: it’s a model that one needs to bear in mind all the time. It keeps you honest just a little bit. It stops you from thinking “Oh yeah, it’s easy. I’ll  go give a few lectures and then I’ve done my job.” Especially in philosophy, that’s not what doing your job looks like.

Activity X: Educational lecture/talk

The Foundational Difference Between Austrian Economics and the Mainstream | Interview with Paul Cwik

Activity XI: One episode from my favorite podcasts list

Nate Silver Says: “Everyone Is Kind of Weird”: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Nate Silver is the editor is chief of and he’s on a mission to approach journalism with a rigorous emphasis on statistical reasoning, critical thinking, big data, and empirical research. In this episode of the Freakonomics podcast, he shares some of his thoughts how to think about big data, predicting long-term success, and some of his professional influences.

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

On the importance of thinking critically about statistics and not being hsty with the conclusions we draw from big data:

there are a couple of things to unpack. You know, one is the term “big data” itself. And there are some people who would say, “Well, big data has to be really large, not the sort of stuff you could crunch on a regular computer.” You know, for example, we launched an interactive recently where it looks at- a different way of looking at which flights get you there the fastest, what’s the best airline for logistics, and that relies on data from about 6 million flights. That sounds impressive. But you can still run that program in about ten or twelve minutes on a laptop, right? People wouldn’t really say it’s big data when all those records are pretty carefully scrutinized. But that said, people I think when they say big data often mean analytics really, and statistical analysis, applied statistics. You know, it’s not all about the data necessarily. Oftentimes it’s not about the amount of data you have but how much you vetted that data. If a data set is virginal, as they call it, no one’s looked at it before really. You’re gonna have a lot of problems and one problem with a really large data set is that if you’re running some algorithms, some quick and dirty way to find the most influential data points, a lot of times those are bugs and outliers, right? And the reason why you have that anomaly is because someone coded it in wrong. Or you made some mistake in the analysis.

You know, I also think there aren’t necessarily the skills and the training, so one thing I talk about in my book is how when the personal computer became commonplace in the workforce in the 1970s and then in the home in the early 1980s, it took awhile before there were any tangible signs of productivity gains in the economy, meaning like ten or fifteen or twenty years, even. So I think people love new technology but they overestimate how much of the kind of human factor gets in the way. I’m not trying to be cute about that, I just mean that people need to learn how to use these tools, what they can do, what they can’t do, you know, no amount of data is a substitute for scientific inference and hypothesis testing, and kind of structured analysis of a system. I think one of the false promises that was made early on is that, well if you have a billion data points or a trillion data points, you’re going to find lots and lots of correlations through brute force. And you will, but the problem is that a high percentage of those, maybe the vast majority, are false correlations, are false positives. Where there could be significance, but you have so many lottery tickets when you can run an analysis on a trillion data points, that you’re going to have some one in million coincidences just by chance alone. If you bet all your money on them, you might wind up looking very foolish in the end.

On the trickiness of distinguishing between long-term and short-term indicators of value:

So, you know, I think sometimes people grasp onto outliers, especially when they talk about us and FiveThirtyEight. So ESPN when it signs a deal with a sports league, like the NBA, that’s a 10-year deal. And they literally will be contemplating technologies that don’t even exist yet. The thing about traffic now is that you can measure so much in real time, you know, so you might be able to say, “If we wanted to publish a story that would maximize pageviews right now, we would say, ‘There’s been an alien invasion, right? President Obama has been kidnapped and beamed up to Mars.’” And everyone on the internet would look at that story for about five minutes, and then no one, hopefully, would ever read our site again. There’s no metric, yet, for kind of what’s the long-term value that you’re generating from a stupid article that you post today to get a lot of page views or the loyalty you develop with your customers. So, we saw some baseball a little bit, where for a while people were able to measure offense really well, and not defense really well. And so the sloppy conclusion there is that, “Well we can’t measure defense,” therefore it doesn’t matter.” Well it turned out that when people actually found better ways to measure defensive ability, it turned out to matter at least as much, maybe more than the conventional wisdom had held. So we’re aware of that and that some things you can judge with metrics, some things you can’t and that’s a tricky part of the media business now.

On his biggest intellectual influence:

I mean, you know, I admire Bill James a lot for what he did with baseball statistics. In part because he was way, way ahead of his time. I mean, he kind of preceded Moneyball literally by 20 years or thereabouts, but also because he’s a good communicator and kind of a humanist at heart, right? He’s not just interested in statistics for statistics’ sake, but how they’re used to kind of vest life and our understanding of sports and other things with a lot of meaning instead.

On the one thing he’s spent way to much time or energy on that he doesn’t regret:

I mean, I invest a lot of time and a lot of money in eating well. It’s one of those things that I think in a market like New York, where I live, really rewards effort, where if you spend the time to try different places and sometimes spend the money, although there’s great cheap eats in New York, too, you know I just find that it’s a product where it’s a fun way to experiment and something where you have to eat every day, so you might as well put some thought into it.

On a book that’s influenced his thinking:

I kind of often talk about Daniel Kahneman and Thinking Fast and Slow is kind of, just I think, a really great overall kind of modern guide to thinking, if that isn’t a little too pretentious, or too precious, rather. But that’s one of my favorite books.

On one thing he’s changed his mind about:

I kind of thought, “Well, just be quantitative and that’s better categorically than being qualitative and that’ll solve all your problems.” I still believe to a very rough approximation, people need to be more quantitative, but I think it needs to be a much more kind of structured investigation of the data. And kind of realizing this is one of the challenges, one of the reasons I’m betting our markets are interesting. Whenever you have a belief that kind of differs a lot from the consensus, then that’s a very complicated place to be.

Activity XII: Read one Blog Post from Favorites List

Two Gorgeous Ways of Saying NO in Business…Without Throwing Cheeseburgers at People’s Heads

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

“Boundaries in business are important. I’m obsessed with them. I talk about boundaries a lot. Probably because when I was young, I was very, very horrible at setting them.”

Ash Ambirge begins this blog post on boundaries with those words. Here are a few of my favorite excerpts:

On her struggle to set boundaries as a beginning entrepreneur:

When 2006 rolled around and I started my first copywriting business, boundaries took on a whole new meaning. As in, GET SOME OR DIE. It was hard saying “no” to people who were giving me money. It felt almost like a bait and switch. Until I realized that people weren’t paying me to say “yes.” They were paying me to write. That reminder helped me a lot in those early years. Anything that didn’t support my main job for them—writing—was rejected. This eliminated a lot of the, “Hey, you’re good with computers. You think you could help me format this 100 page case study?” Which, surprisingly, was a fairly typical kind of request for a little freelancer like me, at the time.

On how saying “no” is a matter of kindness, professionalism, and respect:

Then, of course, you’ve got present day me. The present day me says no more than I say, “wine, please.” I’m now a NO samurai. I love saying no. It feels so good. Protecting my head space is the most important thing I could ever do.

I love when other people tell me, “no,” too. It shows me they care about themselves. And if they’re working for me, it shows me that they care about their work. I can rest easy knowing I’m not giving someone panic attacks in the middle of the night. No is healthy. No is realistic. No is yes, in a way. It just might be in a different way than most people assume. It’s yes to a priority, yes to a reputation, yes to control, yes to professionalism.

On two examples of how to say “no” with firmness, precision, and dipomacy:

Just this week, I’ve had two people tell me “no” in a way that felt so respectful, so supportive of our work and relationship together.

The first was just a few minutes ago. I have a conference call at 11am today. We all know I’m a talker. This person made sure to make the disclaimer:

“I have a hard stop at 11:25, but we may only need 15-20 minutes.”

Beautifully done. Bravo! It sets expectations for everyone, and sets him up for a professional exit—not one that feels like he’s slighting me.

The other was earlier this week. It’s one of our developers. He said this:

“According to Home Base you’ll hear from us again on April 15 with some really sexy updates. Until then, have a splendid week.”

You know what that does? It lets me know they aren’t going to be in constant contact–which is a no in disguise. It’s a no to constant availability, the feeling of being put on-call by your clients. And it is GORGEOUS. (Furthermore, by using the phrase “According to Home Base,” they remove the pressure off themselves and show me that it’s our agreed upon timeline. Another really great tip.)

Ash ends her post with the following challenge,

Your homework today: Say no as many times as you can. (And maybe in as many foreign accents as you can.) You don’t need to rationalize yourself to everyone you meet. Sometimes, a two-letter word is all you need.