😎 Summer reading

We will take an email break for the summer (maybe longer).

Our weekly hours are fixed at 168 and it’s helpful to have a ‘fire-break’ of sorts to reshuffle our decks and double-check our priorities. In that spirit these emails will take a break.

My blog will continue, with similar material. There’s an email option for you there as well. A final summer offering, for those who need some summer reading, is this pdf of a Rory Sutherland talk about placebos. It is a pay-what-you want offering. Enjoy.

🕵️‍♂️ Mastermind: Your spot

We will end our week on Mastermind taking a quote from Maria Konnikova’s Wharton Moneyball podcast. When asked if there’s a better way to play poker, to play the person more or to play the probabilities more, Maria said this:

"I don't think there's an answer, it depends on who you are and leveraging what you are good at. If want to become good, you need to have both, you can't be uni-focused on the math or the psychology. There are people who say, 'the math is bullshit, I play the person'. There are also some people who say, 'I don't care about the psychology crap, I'm going to play the numbers'. But the best players know that it's both and that you have to combine both. Now, what combination depends  on the player. You need to know yourself and play to your strengths." 

There are two approaches to finding your spot: hard work and effectiveness.

Hard work depends on some quantity of interesting, ability, progress, external motivation, and internal drive. I’ve never learned to play the guitar because this mix isn’t high enough for me to learn.

Effectiveness depends on the s-curve of learning. This is why it’s often much easier to fix a weakness than to improve a strength. Many skills in life are slow going at first, followed by rapid learning, and then a long slog of mastery.

Our lesson from Maria is to find the important skills, and chip away at those.

🕵️‍♂️ Mastermind: Imagination in a straitjacket

In honor of her new book, The Biggest Bluff, we will spend this week revisiting Maria Konnikova’s book Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes.

The reason design is so important in thinking like Holmes and in life is that we tend to create desire paths about where we want to go, whether that’s been approved or not. Put another way, we don’t like effort. 

It was Richard Feynman who said that scientists need to be creative because big breakthroughs thread the needle between what is possible and what is improbable. To implore his fellow scientists, Feynman suggested they have “imagination in a straitjacket.”

The idea is to consider opportunity costs, possibilities, non-linearities, hypotheticals, different points-of-view all while giving zero fucks about what others thoughts AND doing that within the confines of a discipline. Let’s not imagine we can send people to the moon without considering physics. Let’s not imagine we can sell people cars without considering psychology. 

To play with physics, as Feynman put it, is often helped by distance. Being too close in a relationship, or in time, or in space creates a mental gravitational field where we get sucked into the center of mass of that one idea—which may be right but we want to explore before camping out.

To be more like Holmes, we can remember that the game is afoot. 

🕵️‍♂️ Mastermind: Design

In honor of her new book, The Biggest Bluff, we will spend this week revisiting Maria Konnikova’s book Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlocks Holmes is often imitated, never duplicated If we want to be more like Sherlock and rely less on dumb luck, we’ll need to approach our thinking like someone might approach their cooking. There are skills to learn and tools to acquire. 

Most of our mental lofts are little like the distinct detective. We act simply, relying on the availability tendency (neé bias) and fail to dig deep to consider other things. Life is complex, and there’s often more than one ‘right way’. Unfortunately, school conditioned many of us to rely on the one-right-answer approach. Instead, we can consider Rory Sutherland’s suggestion that “the opposite of one good idea may be another good idea.” 

One way to do this is to force a quantity of solutions. How might this situation be solved if we had ten times the money or one-tenth? What if the solution was compressed to one-weekend? How would a marketer solve this? What about an engineer?

“The trick is to train your brain to move past that part of the immediate reward, to find the uncertainty of the future rewarding in itself.” 

We could brute force our process but good design makes it easier. We need to think about exploring the solution space, not settling.

🕵️‍♂️ Mastermind: The Brain Attic

In honor of her new book, The Biggest Bluff, we’ll spend this week revisiting Maria Konnikova’s book Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes.

In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman describes the brain as two parts, System 1 and System 2. Our brains aren’t actually distinct units like bacon and spaghetti are part of carbonara, but this is a handy framing.

Konnikova frames things nicely too, inspiring readers to think about brain attics, which like real attics have structure and contents. The structure of our cranial lofts isn’t boards but ego, experiences and our evolutionary tendencies (neé biases). One of which is omission neglect:

“We fail to note what we did not perceive up front, and we fail to inquire further or take the missing pieces into account when we make our decisions.” 

Consider the choice of college. Questions about degrees, reputations, and job prospects all fill the top of our lists, but what about ideas like graduating early, semesters-at-work, or work experience for credit? Until prompted we don’t consider it. That’s the kind of thinking we’re dealing with. 

The contents of our upstairs abodes is made up of whatever we fill it with. Garbage in, garbage out. 

One bit of self-help advice I’ve always struggled with is to embrace boredom. I think what those advocates are getting at is acting like a Simpson, but not Homer. It’s Marge who takes the opportunity to clean out the attic, rearrange the good stuff, and pitch the junk. That’s what boredom allows. 

To be more like the Victorian mastermind, we’ll do well to consume good and practice good thinking.

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