CategorySelf Development

The Man in the Arena: Theodore Roosevelt’s Citizenship In A Republic

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It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world. Among the free peoples who govern themselves there is but a small field of usefulness open for the men of cloistered life who shrink from contact with their fellows. Still less room is there for those who deride of slight what is done by those who actually bear the brunt of the day; nor yet for those others who always profess that they would like to take action, if only the conditions of life were not exactly what they actually are. The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be a cynic, or fop, or voluptuary. There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder. Well for these men if they succeed; well also, though not so well, if they fail, given only that they have nobly ventured, and have put forth all their heart and strength.

David Foster Wallace: This is Water

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Greetings parents and congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches - the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story thing turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back

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That same brutal principle of unequal distribution applies outside the financial domain—indeed, anywhere that creative production is required. The majority of scientific papers are published by a very small group of scientists. A tiny proportion of musicians produces almost all the recorded commercial music. Just a handful of authors sell all the books. A million and a half separately titled books (!) sell each year in the US. However, only five hundred of these sell more than a hundred thousand copies. Similarly, just four classical composers (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky) wrote almost all the music played by modern orchestras. Bach, for his part, composed so prolifically that it would take decades of work merely to hand-copy his scores, yet only a small fraction of this prodigious output is commonly performed...

It also applies to the population of cities (a very small number have almost all the people), the mass of heavenly bodies (a very small number hoard all the matter), and the frequency of words in a language (90 percent of communication occurs using just 500 words), among many other things. Sometimes it is known as the Matthew Principle (Matthew 25:29), derived from what might be the harshest statement ever attributed to Christ: “to those who have everything, more will be given; from those who have nothing, everything will be taken.”

Charlie Munger: The Psychology of Human Misjudgment

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Fairly late in life, I stumbled into this book, Influence, by a psychologist named Bob Cialdini, who became a super tenured hotshot on a 2,000 person faculty at a very young age. And he wrote this book, which has now sold 300 odd thousand copies, which is remarkable for somebody. Well, it’s an academic book aimed at a popular audience that filled in a lot of holes in my crude system. When those holes had filled in, I thought I had a system that was a good working tool, and I’d like to share that one with you.

And I came here because of behavioral economics. How could economics not be behavioral? If it isn’t behavioral, what the hell is it? And I think it’s fairly clear that all reality has to respect all other reality. If you come to inconsistencies, they have to be resolved, and so if there’s anything valid in psychology, economics has to recognize it, and vice versa. So I think the people that are working on this fringe between economics and psychology are absolutely right to be there, and I think there’s been plenty wrong over the years.

Charlie Munger: A Lesson on Elementary Worldly Wisdom As It Relates To Investment Management & Business

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I’m going to play a minor trick on you today because the subject of my talk is the art of stock picking as a subdivision of the art of worldly wisdom. That enables me to start talking about worldly wisdom—a much broader topic that interests me because I think all too little of it is delivered by modern educational systems, at least in an effective way.

And therefore, the talk is sort of along the lines that some behaviorist psychologists call Grandma’s rule after the wisdom of Grandma when she said that you have to eat the carrots before you get the dessert.

The carrot part of this talk is about the general subject of worldly wisdom which is a pretty good way to start. After all, the theory of modern education is that you need a general education before you specialize. And I think, to some extent, before you’re going to be a great stock picker, you need some general education.

Perseverance is Great, But Don’t Forget to Prepare

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After numerous terrorism incidents in the 1970s, the United States realized its armed forces had a blind spot when it came to counterterrorism. Green Beret  Colonel Charlie Beckwith, who had served alongside the British Army's counter-terrorism unit the Special Air Service (also known as " SAS ") in Malaysia, had been pushing for such a group since the 1960s. Now that the opportunity to be proactive had passed, the U.S. Army decided it was a good time to commission its own SAS-like force - namely,  Delta Force.

That brings us to Eric Haney. Haney had a successful start to his career, joining the army straight out of high school and progressing to platoon sergeant in the Army Rangers. In 1977, he was fretting that he would wind up as an instructor given his combat experience could be put to use training subsequent Ranger generations. After jumping out of an airplane as part of a drill, he stumbled into the opportunity to try out for one of the first Delta Force squadrons.

Invert, Always Invert – Avoid Failure to Succeed

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"Suppose I wanted to kill a lot of pilots - what would be the easy way to do it?"  That might not be what you want to hear from the guy clearing your plane for take off , but if your fellow passengers are an elderly billionaire and some Cold War-era Soviet engineers, they might rest easy knowing the right questions are being asked. That is because thinking about how to do the exact opposite of your goal is sometimes the best way to ensure you achieve it.

Let's turn to the Soviets -  Genrich Altshuller received his first patent at the age of 17 and a passion for innovation led him to study engineering before becoming a Soviet Navy patent officer. His position allowed him to see a wide range of patents, and being curious, he took a critical eye to the uniqueness of every "new" invention. This analysis eventually led to the conclusion that most of the work being done between different fields - biologists, physicists, chemists, engineers, etc - consisted of repeated invention due to ignorance outside of one's primary field. He eventually pulled together lists of best practices and key principles of innovation based on this work, which became " the theory of inventive problem solving " - alternatively known as TRIZ.

Habits Maketh the Man (and Un-Maketh Him, Too)

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Life is complex. Chaotic. Surprising. Uncertain. It is full of new things - many of which can kill us. And that’s a problem, because we humans tend to prefer not dying. Fortunately, we have been practicing surviving for quite some time and have developed a way to cut down on that chaos with a bit of order: the ability to form habits. However, and unfortunately for those humans looking for more in life than just survival, these habits often have more control over us than we have control over them.

So what are habits and why do they control us? Jason Hreha, a behavioral scientist who writes about life and business, summarizes that “habits are, simply, reliable solutions to recurring problems in our environment.” They are unconscious programs that free up our conscious mind to solve those non-recurring new problems that are constantly thrown our way. It’s too mentally expensive to try to figure out what you should do every day when you get home from work - its much easier to have a program that loads without you knowing and tells you to change clothes. Putting on running shoes loads the running program. Smelling alcohol loads the drinking program. The important take away is that whether you notice them or not, the habits are running. This means that, for better or for worse, your habits are in charge of who you are in the future.