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Looking for the Overlooked, the Inseparability of Beingness From Appearances, & the Forgotten Value of Effectiveness (Reading Notes 6.30.18)

Resource: Six Principles for Making Things


In order for investing to be wise, it has to be contrarian. That is, the essence of a good investment is that it has to be something that most people are overlooking or underestimating. When looking for profitable ideas, look for problems and solutions that most people are overlooking, dismissing, or taking for granted.

When you make it a point to convey your ideas informally, this has two benefits: 1) By refusing to hide behind a fancy and pretentious presentation, you force yourself to make your ideas truly understandable. Pretty presentations can help us get away with obfuscation. Sticking to informal language makes this really difficult. 2) Because you’re not wasting time on a formal presentation, you can focus more energy on the nuts and bolts of what needs to be done. Formal presentations can give you a false sense of progress.

Launch early. That’s how you get the feedback you need to build a great product.


Paul Graham 4-fold strategy for launching startups:

“I like to find (a) simple solutions (b) to overlooked problems (c) that actually need to be solved, and (d) deliver them as informally as possible, (e) starting with a very crude version 1, then (f) iterating rapidly.”

On why this strategy tends to generate contempt:

“When I first laid out these principles explicitly, I noticed something striking: this is practically a recipe for generating a contemptuous initial reaction. Though simple solutions are better, they don’t seem as impressive as complex ones. Overlooked problems are by definition problems that most people think don’t matter. Delivering solutions in an informal way means that instead of judging something by the way it’s presented, people have to actually understand it, which is more work. And starting with a crude version 1 means your initial effort is always small and incomplete.”

Why contrarian investing strategies give you an advantage:

“Like a contrarian investment fund, someone following this strategy will almost always be doing things that seem wrong to the average person. As with contrarian investment strategies, that’s exactly the point. This technique is successful (in the long term) because it gives you all the advantages other people forgo by trying to seem legit.”

“If you work on overlooked problems, you’re more likely to discover new things, because you have less competition.”

“If you deliver solutions informally, you (a) save all the effort you would have had to expend to make them look impressive, and (b) avoid the danger of fooling yourself as well as your audience.”

“…if you release a crude version 1 then iterate, your solution can benefit from the imagination of nature, which, as Feynman pointed out, is more powerful than your own.”

On why you should launch as soon as you can:

“There are always new ideas right under your nose. So look for simple things that other people have overlooked—things people will later claim were “obvious”—especially when they’ve been led astray by obsolete conventions, or by trying to do things that are superficially impressive. Figure out what the real problem is, and make sure you solve that. Don’t worry about trying to look corporate; the product is what wins in the long term. And launch as soon as you can, so you start learning from users what you should have been making.”

How Reddit capitalized on overlooked problems and an early launch”

“Reddit is a classic example of this approach. When Reddit first launched, it seemed like there was nothing to it. To the graphically unsophisticated its deliberately minimal design seemed like no design at all. But Reddit solved the real problem, which was to tell people what was new and otherwise stay out of the way. As a result it became massively successful. Now that conventional ideas have caught up with it, it seems obvious. People look at Reddit and think the founders were lucky. Like all such things, it was harder than it looked. The Reddits pushed so hard against the current that they reversed it; now it looks like they’re merely floating downstream. So when you look at something like Reddit and think “I wish I could think of an idea like that,” remember: ideas like that are all around you. But you ignore them because they look wrong.”

Resource: Hannah Arendt on Being vs. Appearing and Our Impulse for Self-Display


Being and appearance are inseparable. To be is to appear and to appear is to be. To have existence is to experience yourself as an entity that “shows up” or appears in the world of some observer. And whatever appears in your world appears because it has an existence of some kind.


“To be alive means to live in a world that preceded one’s own arrival and will survive one’s own departure. On this level of sheer being alive, appearance and disappearance, as they follow upon each other, are the primordial events, which as such mark out time, the time span between birth and death. The finite life span allotted to each living creature determines not merely its life expectancy but also its time experience; it provides the secret prototype for all time measurements no matter how far these then may transcend the allotted life span into past and future. Thus, the lived experience of the length of a year changes radically throughout our life. A year that to a five-year-old constitutes a full fifth of his existence must seem much longer than when it will constitute a mere twentieth or thirtieth of his time on earth. We all know how the years revolve quicker and quicker as we get older, until, with the approach of old age, they slow down again because we begin to measure them against the psychologically and somatically anticipated date of our departure.”

“To appear always means to seem to others, and this seeming varies according to the standpoint and the perspective of the spectators. In other words, every appearing thing acquires, by virtue of its appearingness, a kind of disguise that may indeed — but does not have to — hide or disfigure it. Seeming corresponds to the fact that every appearance, its identity notwithstanding, is perceived by a plurality of spectators.”

Resource: Mike Rowe on Efficiency versus Effectiveness


Efficiency is about getting the job done faster. It’s about achieving more leverage. Effectiveness is about getting the desired result. Faster doesn’t always equal better. When trying to improve efficiency, it’s important to look for things that are worth improving. Do we really need to make every single process faster? And are we really being more efficient if we end up just replacing so-called inefficient labor with a bunch of effort oriented around the management of time-management tools?


“Rowe argues that skilled labor (think: plumbing, welding) can be both satisfying and lucrative, and yet there are still somewhere around three million such jobs left unfilled in this country. He credits this gap largely to a contemporary culture that demonizes blue collar work and preaches the best path is always a college degree, followed, God willing, by a pair of Warby Parker glasses and a job as a social media brand manager.”

“Rowe notes that knowledge work seems obsessed with efficiency, while the skilled trades seem more concerned with effectively solving problems.”

“By focusing relentlessly on making specific tasks or operations easier and faster, instead of stepping back and trying to understand how to make an organization as a whole maximally effective, we’ve ended with a knowledge work culture in which people spend the vast majority of their time trying to keep up with the very inboxes, devices and channels that were conceived for the exact opposite purpose — to liberate more time for more valuable efforts.”

“Rowe hints at an interesting path out of this swamp: stop lionizing efficiency, and start asking the question that has guided craftsmen for millennia: what’s the most effective way for me to accomplish the things that are most important?”

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