The following interview and links to resources are by Spencer Greenberg, a mathematician, quant hedge fund manager, and overall man on a mission to spread practical rationality into the world. His GiveGetWin Deal, “Decision Making Mistakes, Avoiding Bias, Challenging Beliefs, Evidence — How Do We Know It’s True, and What To Do About It?” will be 60 minutes including a class and Q&A designed to make you better at key decisionmaking in life. Use it to earn better, spend better, and live better. Here’s Spencer —
Clearer Thinking by Spencer Greenberg as told to Sebastian Marshall
I’m a mathematician by background. I focus on the mathematics of machine learning, trying to get computers to learn from data to make accurate predictions. I founded a quantitative hedge fund that uses machine learning to invest in the stock market: it learns as it goes, and updates itself as it learns from the data.
I also founded the Clearer Thinking Project with the goal of getting people to challenge their own beliefs, improve their decision making, and avoid bias. The original inspiration for this work comes from cognitive science, where over the last few decades scientists have discovered numerous ways our brains mislead us when we’re making decisions.
1. The whole landscape of Morocco is beautiful, almost hauntingly so. The trees, the buildings, the architecture… it’s majestic and inspiring.
2. The merchants and hawkers have such an interesting way of running their craft. You see how hawkers sell fruits, vegetables, spices — and you realize that it’s how merchants traded in produce for thousands of years. They’re stacked on the ground on a blanket, stacked so elegantly and carefully. It’s much more viscerally appealing than the modernity of supermarkets, at least while visiting.
3. Very few people speak excellent English. Everyone speaks French, mixed with a bit of Arabic. You can get around, but it’s not super convenient.
4. 95% of the people are very friendly and very nice. Like, very much so. They’re wonderful people.
5. Yet, similar to Vietnam, I feel like I can’t let my awareness / danger sense drop below 65%. Morocco is quite safe apparently, but the traffic is crazy with motorbikes down alleyways, poor signage, etc. And that’s not the tougher part — people try to give you less change than your purchase cost and overcharge slightly, it’s a constant haggling culture, and touts are trying to take advantage of you and give you bad directions.
Still one of the finest videos on Youtube about getting things done. If you're in a hurry, watch the last five minutes. But really, watch the whole thing. Even if the conservatism isn't your thing, just tough through it. It's worth it. Really, truly, it is --
Question from a reader --
I'm not sure I agree with "He, therefore, who desires peace, should prepare for war." at all. Perhaps I just don't understand it.
What does it mean to you?
In the most literal sense, it means that a country's neighbors are less likely to cause problems with a well-armed, well-trained, battle hardened and effective armed forces.
Been going through this a bit. Definitely worth at least a skim --
He, therefore, who desires peace, should prepare for war. He who aspires to victory, should spare no pains to form his soldiers. And he who hopes for success, should fight on principle, not chance. No one dares to offend or insult a power of known superiority in action.
It's where "Si vis pacem, para bellum" originated -- if you want peace, prepare for war. Etc.
I've linked the important Gollwitzer paper before, the one on Goal Shielding and Implementation Intentions.
One particular phrase from it was game-changing for me. It introduced a concept called "The Elaborated Intrusive Theory of Desire."
Here you go. It's technical, but worth it --
In short -- a simple craving happens spontaneously... but then if it's perceived as harmful and sets off an internal battle of sorts in a person, the craving and desire get "elaborated" and start... hijacking your mind? "Hijacking your mind" is probably too strong a way of putting it; but not altogether crazily too strong.
This is the second week of the daily habit targets set. Last time, it was called "Key Points: Week One" -- but it looks like the long-term name that's sticking is the "Lights Spreadsheet" (due to the color-coding "green lights" being highly motivating).
You'll note an upward trend in most categories. Largely this is due to an excellent environment -- Kai and I took a ship across the Atlantic for two weeks, from Miami to London, to create a good working environment. I used the internet in ports only... and it was magnificent.
(I'll perhaps write about it later. I didn't announce it beforehand except to a few people that might have needed me on very short notice, because I was curious to see how many people recognized I was away or felt inconvenienced. Answer: Not many.)
We've already talked about the worst day, analyzing 27 April in "Cascading Unpleasantness" -- no need to rehash it. It was unpleasant.
Observe a powerfully built man. Average height, but weighing as much as most people much taller. Broad shoulders, easily able to pack on muscle mass, easily able to put on a beer belly if he gets sloppy.
Heavily muscled and thick legs lends its way to a high capacity for endurance and a high pain tolerance; indeed. Such a built man, with his low center of gravity, would be good to strap a heavy pack across his back and trek it across a mountain.
But he could not jump high.
It's indisputable and inarguable that someone with a low center of gravity, high mass, relatively under-developed fast-twitch muscles, etc, etc -- will never be excellent at jumping.
This does not make this sort of man a less worthwhile man. Nor does it make him more worthwhile. It is simply a fact.
I assure you, the hardest part of leadership is not getting rejected.
Yes, you’ll have to call on people in elevated and lofty positions. Yes, sometimes they won’t call you back. Occasionally they’ll even — in the midst of being knee-deep in their own issues and generally terse — be rather unpleasant to interact with. You do get rejected, more or less harshly.
That’s not so bad.
Much harder is when you let someone down. When people believe in you, commit to you, and you can’t deliver final results — which, if you’re really pushing the envelope, is at least somewhat often — that hurts.
As a leader, people pour their energy, their cognition, their time which is the very lifeblood of existence — they pour all this into you and bet on you, and when you let them down…
“The distinction between safety and justice is often blurred, but it becomes clear when you are walking down a crowded city sidewalk, and an athletic young man grabs your pursue or briefcase. As he runs off into fast-moving traffic, justice requires that you chase the youth down to catch and arrest him. But as he zig-zags through traffic, cars barely missing him, safety requires you to break off the chase. It is unfair that he gets away unpunished, but it is more important that you come away unhurt. (To remind clients that my job is to help them be safer, I have a small sign on my desk that reads, Do not come here for justice.)”
From Gavin de Becker's "The Gift of Fear," on the topic of security -- but relevant in general to remember not mixing up your necessity for winning and protecting yourself with the desire to make others lose and avenge yourself at your own expense.