mundell

Reminders for myself that I don't mind sharing

There once was a boy born outside the castle walls who wanted to someday see inside. He was born into a poor family in a nearby village. His parents did not want him to work for the king, since the king taxes them heavily and enacts strict ruling upon them. But this boy was particularly ambitious. He was determined to know what it was like to be a member of the ruling class.

He continued through his schooling and worked dutifully alongside his parents in the evenings. He was willing to start at the lowest level and work his way up.

Rumor had it that you start as a groundskeeper and work your way up to gatekeeper. Gatekeeper is in closest contact with the ruling class. He opens and closes the doors when they leave and enter the castle. The gatekeeper position requires a lot of loyalty to the king and extreme levels of trustworthiness.

Whenever poor folk would arrive at the gates, begging for food, the boy, now grown into a man, would turn them down. They would wail and turn back to start their descent to the small huts they lived in. Citizens were getting thin as the rough winter approached. Each night the king made the gatekeeper light a lantern on either side of the door. The gatekeeper stood dutifully and kept watch.

This routine continued for many years. The gatekeeper was hopeful that one day his dreams would be fulfilled and he would be allowed within the castle walls. He would become a member of the ruling class, he hoped. He could pull his parents out of poverty and let them know their biases about the king were wrong. That the king was indeed a nice person.

One day the gatekeepers parents arrived at the gate, determined to see the king because their house had been raided by other starving citizens. They wanted these citizens to be punished for their actions. They made a large commotion in front of their son, the gatekeeper.

They were so loud that eventually the king himself came upon the castle walls and looked down to see the commotion.

Realizing that this could be his chance to prove his loyalty to the king, the gatekeeper forcefully turned his parents away. They stared at their son in shock. How could their child allow these crimes to go unpunished? Did blood not mean anything to him?

Still they would not turn away. The gatekeeper bared his weapon, pointing it at his parents. The parents faces rose in shock. His mother burst into tears. Slowly, the couple turned away from their son and made the descent back to their looted home.

Once they were firmly in the distance the gatekeeper looked upon the walls and saw the king looking down at him.

“Nice job boy.” the king said. He turned away from the wall, leaving the gatekeeper.

The gatekeeper does not get to go through the gate.

Try not to pay attention to things that don't impact your life directly. This seems obvious in theory, but it's hard to put into practice. Your time is limited and should not be wasted. Few things are worth being unhappy over. This doesn't mean you need to be happy all of the time, it just means you need to be at peace.

This time of the year is for family and self-reflection, planning for the new year ahead. Look back on what you have achieved over the past 12 months, how you have changed as a person. Are you happy with what you see? If yes, continue onwards, making adjustments as required If your answer is no, reflect on what went wrong and what you may have not been considering. Make adjustments to your life until you are content with your situation.

Far too many of us push onwards without looking back. This is not a bad thing, but it can have destructive side effects. Think of all the time you have spent thinking about things that do not matter in the long run. Did you fret over a situation on February 21st, 2020? Are you still fretting over that situation today? If not, then realize in the heat of the moment that the after effects of this situation are minimal.

This time wasted thinking about other things needs a place to go. Think of new hobbies you'd like to take up, and realize that there is no moment other than the present moment. The past and the future are made up in our minds. The only thing that exists is a series of present moments with some historical records of other present moments, otherwise known as history.

Take up hobbies that give you fulfillment. Playing an instrument, learning a new language, studying a topic you've been procrastinating on. These things directly impact your life. Random people on the internet calling you mean names do not. They do not exist once you turn off your phone or your computer. Once you have done that, you can forget they ever even existed.

These words may sound harsh, but they should help you. Become incredibly selfish with your time. Do not lend it out for nothing in return. If you are reading this and your heart is pushing against this message, I applaud you. But realize this is how the world works. Even if people think they are doing something charitable, they are only doing it because it benefits themselves in some way. It's as simple as a pat on the back for a good days work or a photo op that ends up in the local newspaper.

Be like water. Take these words and do not develop a strict routine or regimen to follow. This is not the proper way to live. Only take action when you feel it is in accord with the universe. Do things as you want to do them. Be who you are meant to be. Being yourself is the most natural action you can do. Achieving your true self does not require secrets or strict routines, it simply requires being yourself. You will naturally drift towards your perfect state.

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. Humans can be influenced with incentives. Working a job in a perfect example. You go to work because you want to get paid, the incentive to working is getting paid. If you didn't get paid, you probably wouldn't do the work. This applies even more well when you consider jobs where compensation is tied directly to how hard you work. The harder you work, the more you get paid. But what people don't realize is the trade-offs you make by chasing further compensation. Compensation is a measure, it has become your target. By chasing compensation you may forgo the things that really matter to you, like spending time with your family.

This applies to almost every area of life. Chasing a singular metric, trying to maximize that will cause you to pay less attention to other factors. If your goal is to chop down a forest, what's stopping you from blowing up the forest to achieve the target? This in an extreme example but it's meant to explain why you need to consider all factors before engaging in something.

These metrics are all abstractions. They are targets set in our minds that we deem are important. This seems to be an essential trait of being human, placing value on one thing over another, when reality might say they are equal. We treat our families better than we treat strangers although both are human individuals.

It just seems interesting on how we structure our lives. Reality marches onwards, always changing but never considering a difference between past, future, and present. But we decipher meaning from this. We take something plain and give it meaning. We take trees and turn them into paper. We take minerals and turn it into jewelry, computer parts, and medical devices.

It sounds like a basic observation, and it is. But it's meant to say you never have to stay within bounds. Boundaries don't exist in reality, except the laws of physics and related. Boundaries are self-imposed. Benjamin Franklin once said “Most men die at 25 years old but aren't buried until they're 75.” People get comfortable within their boundaries when really the boundaries don't exist at all. But it takes mental fortitude to overcome self-imposed boundaries and see that your potential is limitless.

Align your boundaries with that of reality and try not to get stuck chasing abstractions. Consider the steps people, companies, and governments take to solve problems and what other factors their solutions might be stepping over.

Reason from first principles. The simplest solution is often the best one. You should evaluate ideas from a microeconomic perspective. Use supply and demand. The trick is to find something that is in high demand, with low supply. You can also improve upon existing supply to meet the needs of demand. This doesn't have to relate to business. It can help with personal matters as well. Think about finding a partner. People want to find someone who is in high demand with low supply, ie. not average. This is why the most conventionally attractive people are those who have great faces, bodies, etc. If everyone were super fit and physically attractive, people would look for other characteristics. The supply would meet or exceed the demand. Side note: This may become a reality with upcoming genetic modification technologies where people can choose how their children will look, what genetics they will have, etc.

Knowing the foundations well is better than knowing the complex things a little bit. Learn skills and grasp ideas that are fundamental to the topic you are focusing on. Microeconomics? Grasp supply and demand, perfect competition, monopolies, etc. Want to write better? Learn persuasion, learn psychology, learn how humans think. It's more helpful to learn those things than to learn complex verbiage or how to construct paragraphs and sentences.

Think about your own life from this perspective. Look at where you are and where you want to be. If you are not where you want to be, you have a problem to solve. That problem can be solved by reasoning from first principles. Not fit? Look at your diet, how much you exercise, etc. You aren't fit because of some unique characteristic that only affects you. Think back to the bell curve. 99% of successful businesses share similar traits and 99% of fit people share similar traits. There are outliers, but they should be ignored. What worked for an outlier will not work for you. Focus on the commonalities in those who are successful at what you want to achieve. Then, reason from first principles and get good at the basics of that.

But make sure you are spending most of your time engaging in practice, rather than studying theory. Learn the basic principles and how they work, then practice them. You don't need to know everything to start. Far too many people are susceptible to overthinking. They never feel as though they are ready. In the end, they never end up starting. The beauty of it is first principles can be grasped quickly because they are the foundational level of a topic.

What you want to focus on is systems with short feedback loops. A startup is an example. A startup will publish a new update and immediately garner feedback and make changes. They spend small amounts of time creating without user feedback and most of the time creating with user feedback. This puts them ahead of big organizations planning long-term projects with uncertain knowledge of customer demand.

Focus on the first principles. They show up everywhere, are easy to grasp, and have short feedback loops since they appear in the majority of cases.

The macro cannot succeed without the micro, but the macro pulls a majority of the weight. Think of the Pareto Distribution. 80% of the outcomes are due to 20% of causes. The macro is that 20%. The micro makes up the other 80% which creates the other 20% of outcomes.

Self-improvement, growth hacking, most dieting, and minutia of hobbies get people absorbed into them. But they don't really have an effect. The same concept applies to making money. Cutting out a $5 coffee every day will save you $1825 per year but it will never make you rich. Increasing your income from $3,000 per month to $6,000 per month will impact your life noticeably.

The simplest solution is often the right one. All growth hacking tips can be dismissed by simply making a better product, one that people want. Getting fit doesn't require specific secrets and routines, it just requires you to do strenuous physical activity every day, preferably one you enjoy. Tips for “game” (talking to women/men) are irrelevant when you simply act like yourself.

People are ignoring the big movers in favor of small movers, probably because they're afraid to get started with the big movers. Big movers will not pay off immediately, at least most of the time. Delayed gratification is a hard thing for most to overcome. A lot of people struggle with overthinking, thinking they will never be ready to undertake something. This leads to a feedback loop of constantly searching for the final thing, “If only I knew this, then I would do xyz!”.

This isn't to say the little details aren't important. They are, they just don't have as big of an impact on you as you think they should. The macro is inherently made up of the micro, and vice versa. Getting fit requires taking action every day, micro level things. But over the course of a year, the macro is what you will look at. You don't track your progress daily, you track it monthly, quarterly, or yearly.

What it comes down to are the things that you focus on. Are you going to spend most of your energy on things that don't matter? The trouble is, people don't know how to discern between what matters and what doesn't. When in doubt, choose the simplest solution.

There is a difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something. The movie Good Will Hunting illustrates it well. In a scene, the psychologist (Robin Williams) talks to Will (Matt Damon) about how even though he is book smart and can hold vast quantities of information, none of it matters because he won't know what that information is like until he experiences it for himself.

The map is not the territory. A topographic map may show elevation change and differing terrains but you will never know what that area is truly like until you go there. You won't be aware of the effect it has on you until you're experiencing it. Just like how what an art book says about a painting or an artist is not representative of how that art or artist makes you feel. That is what's important to recognize.

Far too many people are getting caught up in logic or emotion instead of considering them together. Stalin said “One death is a tragedy, millions is a statistic”. A family suffering from that one death will feel pain strongly yet we feel the death of millions with weak emotion. People can look at statistics and see the number of deaths from any possible cause but they cannot grasp the emotional aspect of it, until they experience it or something like it themselves. This phenomenon clouds judgement. The extremes of emotion and logic do not offer helpful solutions. The solution is found in the divide between yin and yang.

What Stalin's quote can help us understand about modern society is the lack of minutia we experience. Everything is focused on scale, growing bigger and better than ever before. While growth is not necessarily bad, maybe it shouldn't be pursued at all costs. The single, caring bakery is left to die in favor of a large multinational that offers low prices and extreme efficiency. What people don't realize is those small-town bakeries are where memories are forged. Bonds between the customers and the owner and worker are built around a common interest. Change is more noticeable on a smaller scale.

Humans lived a specific lifestyle for thousands of years and it has suddenly changed within the last 100 to 120 years. There has certainly been a disconnection from the old way of living. It's why new diseases have been popping up, stemming from the modern way of life. Billions of people can be accessed almost instantaneously, something we weren't able to do even twenty years ago.

The finer things in life seem to be found in the little details. Humans went from opening physical mail once per day to checking emails and social media notifications multiple times per hour. The internet has certainly been a good thing but it doesn't mean everything done before should be heavily discounted. There is tremendous value in old things. They have withstood the test of time.

People should strive to produce more than they consume. But to get the attention of thousands or millions of people requires either an extraordinary feat or consistent efforts. People struggle with either of these options. Some people don't have what it takes to produce extraordinary works, to dedicate copious amounts of a time to creating a work of art the world has never seen before. David Blaine is a modern example of this. He's dedicated his life to magic and extraordinary feats so when he attempts something people watch. The other side is unable to produce consistently unless they have eyes on them already. They rely on social validation for production. These people are not seen so there are few examples. Rest assured they are out there. They make up the mass of users on the internet.

These people will start a new blog, start making YouTube videos, start a business, etc. and continue with it for a while. But if they don't gain traction by the time their honeymoon phase of the new venture wears off, they stop working on it. This leads them to pursuing another venture and the cycle eventually repeats itself. What they don't realize is that great things start slowly. People shout into the void until fellow travelers eventually stop to chat. To achieve success you need to make yourself happy by shouting into the void. Don't be bothered if no one stops for a long while. It's just a single-player game. Do not produce because you seek external validation, produce because you love to produce.

Mentioned earlier is the notion that appealing to masses gets you attention. This is still true. Some people act the jester to appeal the king. The king will reward the jester if he is entertained, but can the jester go on like this? The jester was initially chosen for his unique talents, but he is still an animal. He can be conditioned by rewarding stimuli. If the king likes a certain dance, he will dance that dance more often. Eventually he will lose himself to the ideals the king has for him.

What you need to realize is people are attracted via appeals to emotion. It's why people watch WWE although it's fake. We can't help but follow a strong story that impacts our emotions. So the more emotionally active we can make someone, the more they will think about us. To obtain success requires being front of mind in your customers. To be front of mind you must produce constantly, often targeting customer emotions. The old saying “There's no such thing as bad publicity” is true. Any publicity gets attention of yourself onto the consumer. Would you rather have them know you exist and they have strong feelings towards you, one way or the other, or have them not know you exist at all?

Average actions provide average returns. It may sound obvious but people don't consider the second-order effects of their actions. If you want to achieve great things, take great actions. Outliers are found in the extremes, take the bell curve for example. 100% of points are found under the curve. 68% of the points fall into one standard deviation. 95% of the points fall within two standard deviations. 99.7% of points fall within three standard deviations from the mean.

If you are doing what everyone else is, is it any wonder why you are getting average results? Markets mostly operate in the opposite way. Finding an edge, a competitive advantage, requires doing something different, something extreme. Some businesses do it via information, some do it via their technology and other innovations. Individuals can do the same thing, by not reading or watching or listening to what everyone else is. I'm convinced the “hustle porn” is only motivating and attractive to individuals because they are seeing someone do something extreme. If everyone was working hard, the bar would be raised even higher.

So focus on the extremes. People are attracted to interesting people, not average people. But something intriguing about that is how you can garner a large following by appealing to the masses, often what celebrities do. But that is a sort-of meta game that few people do, hence it is an outlier, hence why it works.

Remove yourself from the competition, it is the easiest way to win. Far too many people discount their inherently abilities and chase something else. Nobody can be you as well as you can. Companies that succeed have monopolies on the areas they operate in. But they are not traditional monopolies, those that merely price gouge consumers and control supply. They take over a corner of the market that few people are targeting (outliers) and they take it to the extreme. It's no wonder why they succeed. Then they retain a consumer-driven monopoly. The consumers can leave but they don't (Amazon is a great example). The rest of the bunch is stuck competing away for scraps.

Unfortunately it's in our human nature to function within groups, to do what others are doing. But that was essential for survival. Nowadays it is a leftover trait from a time long past. Those who step outside the group and do their own thing will find success quicker than those who remain in the group. The best part is you'll find yourself happier outside it, doing your own thing. You're free to do as you please, following what interests you. Taking the road less traveled is certainly more dangerous, but there is no reward without risk.

The notion of normal exists until it doesn't. Everyone is lost within their own realities, thinking they have to follow a certain path or must wait until a certain time to do certain things. None of that is real. It is all made up within the mind to make you feel comfortable. The reality is anyone can purchase a plane ticket or quit their job at any moment if they so choose. One's habits can change immediately if they are determined enough to change them.

The same rules apply for a society. If a majority of members within a society simply stop believing in certain rules, that rule becomes nonexistent. It all sounds well and simple but the truth is human nature gets in the way. People follow incentives. It's why people follow the laws, otherwise they will face negative consequences, which is against their self-interest. So what should we be afraid of? We should be afraid of those who have no regard for themselves and wholly submit to what they believe in. Those people are the ones who generate critical mass.

Critical mass is essential for understanding how decisions are made and how systems operate. Most people tag along with what the majority says. But they will not tag along until a certain number of people already believe in it. So who do you need to convince? You need to focus on the critical mass, the small group of people who will believe in it before anyone else. Examples of this are common. A group making a decision will be torn on what to decide until a certain number of group members drift towards one of the options. In a group of ten they say only three people are required to drag the other seven along.

The issue with this is those who grasp the concept can manipulate it. The options put forward may not be the best possible options (refer to things we don't know is greater than things we do know). Those who understand it can also find a group size big enough to act as a critical mass. In a group of ten people, if three of them are friends and will easily agree on the option put forward by them, it will be easy to drag the other members of the group along, to have them do the group of three's bidding.

By throwing incentives into that mixture it is easy to see how things can be manipulated. A critical mass can be persuaded using money, power, connections, etc to agree with the option the creator of it wants. This scales to decision-making at all levels.

How we've come to behave today can change rapidly if the critical mass is changed. But the critical mass for a nation is an innumerable amount of people. So how can one make changes? Start with a small group of people and slowly add concentric circles.

Cults are the extreme example of this. A small group of people can be made to do seemingly insane things just because the people around them also do it. If the cult grows, eventually that will become the norm within the population. The problem with this is there are few outside looking in who can do anything to evaluate if what they're doing is right. They hold no power within the system and so have to change it from the outside.

It's why one must disconnect themselves from the popular points of view. One cannot accurately evaluate the system they reside in, precisely because they reside in it. They will be inherently biased. It's why people can spot the flaws of others easily but cannot see the flaws within themselves.

One must not get lost in the system they've created or surrounded themselves with. Scientists and mathematicians often produce their most notable work when they are young and still new to their industry. This is because they haven't acclimated to their surroundings and are trying new things out.

Humans enjoy comfort rather than disruption. But disruption is what creates great things. Naval Ravikant has said “Your real resume is just a catalogue of your suffering” which seems to be true. At the end of your life you will look at the things which made you suffer in the short-term but you were grateful for in the long-term.

So the reason why great mathematicians and scientists produce their best work while they're young is because they don't want to ruin their reputations. Once they have become notable for something after throwing countless darts on the board they get comfortable with their position in the hierarchy. They get complacent and don't strive to achieve greatness. From their position of status they make it harder for beginners to overcome what they themselves have achieved. Why? Because if someone comes up with a better theory or workaround then the “great one” loses status and is no longer the cool kid.

But what way is there to prevent the system from being overtaken by those that don't want to lose power? The concepts to take from are survival of the fittest and equal opportunity. Those that are willing to work hard enough and smart enough to overtake those above them deserve a fair shot at it. They should not be cut down at the knees. But too many people who agree with that statement focus on the symptoms and not the root problem.

Which is exactly what it is all about. This is the chief problem with us as humans. We are too easily distracted from the root cause, we get lost in the systems we invent. Peter Thiel has previously said something along the lines of “So many people are focused on getting through a small doorway when there is a wide-open gate right around the corner”. Many peoples' favorite movies are those with a massive twist at the end. But consider what those movies have in common with systems we live and work in. Everyone watching is lost in the plot, trying to put together who the culprit might be, when it all it took to discover was to look at the character right in front of them.

It's why we must build from the fundamentals upwards. A house with a poor foundation can only reach so high before it comes tumbling down. Maybe we should consider how the foundation is built before jumping to the next level.

Building a society or a system is as simple as building a house but there is a pesky little thing called human nature getting in the way.

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