From a recent Hacker News comment by me that was both popular and controversial, in response to the declining fertility levels, declining interest in family, and projected downturn in Asia -
I have a theory that I haven't found expounded before. It came from a combination of travel through 60+ countries, living and working and interacting with local people on a pretty intimate level sometimes, and study of lots of history.
It's going to be controversial and maybe even shocking, so brace yourself for a moment before reacting please.
I think peaceful societies self-destruct.
With a few notable exceptions that require a geography suitable to isolationism, long term peace has historically been achieved through your country or one of your ally's having military supremacy over the rest of your neighbors.
Very good question by a regular reader of the site who just joined a new company. Some excerpts -
Do you have any sources to recommend regarding the topic of Small-scale Team or Project Management? The background on my request is simply that I work for a large, very disorganized company that grew from a small "mom & pop" to a competitive industry leader in a 'short' time period (10 years or so). The management has not followed the change with the kind of organizational structure that large companies require for effeciency and they abhore 1) change 2) young people initiating change 3) publish initiatives for change with deadlines, and blame the 'young people' when they aren't completed, meanwhile they sabotage all efforts to work on them.
Now, I am no expert on creating the type of organizational structure we need here, but I witness its absence as a massive failure each and every day in my own department and all of the others as well. My team consists of 3 members, 2 analysists and 1 "manager". Our manager is inept. We have had projects for the last 4 years (prior to my hire) outstanding, which if successful could have significant positive impact on finacials, performance, effeciency, communication... I could go on. Our manager belives that such projects are superfuluois and openly harasses us when we work on them (despite the wild success of the first one...which he attributed not to hard work but to "magic"- literally, he said it must have been magic and denied any part we had in achieving the goal).
It's my birthday today.
I didn't really notice until yesterday that it was coming up on me. Today I slept in a little, discussed real estate in the morning, worked some, and am now in a cafe doing odds and ends with a coffee and some good bread and pastries (it's cheat day on my diet).
Tonight, I might have dinner with a friend or might not, and today is otherwise a normal day like tomorrow.
It seems like a lot of the time, I mention this to someone and they say "oh, that's so sad! why don't you have a celebration?"
And I never had a good answer to that. Now, I think I do.
A couple days ago, I told a Nigerian engineer to "Work online. Use freelancing sites. Lie about the country you’re in. [...] There’s a big stigma against Nigeria. That’s just reality, and you need to deal with it."
A reader replies -
I feel for this guy but I am surprised you recommend lying. There has to be another way. ... I have a problem with lying, period, and perhaps I’ve misunderstood Sebastian but I think he stands for straightforwardness.
Let's talk about this straightforwardly, like adults, like grown-ups.
Most people won't do that. It's inherently weird. Most people don't own up to the fact that they lie, yet almost everyone does so. A lot, actually.
More Dalio. Man, this small book is so dense with good stuff. Bold added by me -
199a) Don’t be a perfectionist, because perfectionists often spend too much time on little differences at the margins at the expense of other big, important things. Be an effective imperfectionist. Solutions that broadly work well (e.g., how people should contact each other in the event of crises) are generally better than highly specialized solutions (e.g., how each person should contact each other in the event of every conceivable crisis), especially in the early stages of a plan. There generally isn't much gained by lots of detail relative to a good broad solution. Complicated procedures are tough to remember, and it takes a lot of time to make such detailed plans (so they might not even be ready when needed).
199c) Watch out for “detail anxiety,” i.e., worrying inappropriately about unimportant, small things.
Very useful term - "detail anxiety." Useful to think about - and strive to avoid.
Got an email from a Nigerian engineer asking for my take on where he's at. Basically, he's on a steady upward career track but he doesn't care for his field of engineering. So he's got a tough decision at hand - he's already got a great credential and skills, but he really wants to do more abstract/entrepreneurial work - but he doesn't currently have the skillset for it. He had two kinds of questions - a high level strategic question about whether the tradeoffs between switching professions are worth it, because he'd be losing out on a lot of his current credentials/skills and be behind other people. And second, tactical questions on getting started on the creative/entrepreneurial path even though he's got a good full-time job right now that he doesn't love, but doesn't want to quit.
He felt pretty unhappy and stuck when he wrote - good solid job right now, not a ton of other opportunity in his area, and worried about how his skills and life would transfer to his desired field. Here's my reply -
Okay. You're obviously a highly intelligent guy. I think one problem that people have is when they decide to become ambitious, they see there's 10,000 ways they could improve and it's easy to kind of panic or get overwhelmed.
Don't panic. Don't get overwhelmed. Calm down, pick 1-3 things to work on, improve those areas like crazy, then pick the next ones. Rome wasn't built in a day.
Hello, reader of my blog!
I meet lots of people.
I can't keep track of everyone.
This is costing me all sorts of bad things. I'm missing opportunities to connect with good people, and since 90% of interesting things in life are the result of connecting with good people, I think this is really a big leak of good things from my life.
I've decided to get a CRM-like system. CRM stands for "customer relationship management" - it's commonly used in sales to track what communication you've had with a prospect/client/etc in the past. Have they gotten a brochure? Have you talked with them on the phone? Did you followup after they bought? How happy were they? Did they fill out a testimonial? Did they refer anyone? Did you send them a gift for referring someone? What's their birthday? Etc, etc.
More Dalio -
200) Think about the appropriate time to make a decision in light of the marginal gains made by acquiring additional information versus the marginal costs of postponing the decision. There are some decisions that are best made after acquiring more information, and some that are best made sooner rather than later. The later a decision is made, the more informed it can be; however, making it later can also have adverse consequences (e.g., postponing progress). Understanding the trade-off between the marginal gains of acquiring the extra information against the marginal costs of postponing a decision is an important factor in the timing and preparation of decision-making.
Brilliantly put. Don't postpone a decision unless you stand to make it better by an amount larger than the cost of the delay.
"Principles" is highly recommended if you haven't gotten around to grabbing a copy yet.
I came across Ray Dalio's "Principles" recently, and I'm totally enamored with this book. It's one of the most clear thinking, accurate, useful pieces of writing I've ever seen.
I haven't been this excited about a work I've come across since first finding Clauswitz's "On War" - the work which defined modern military science.
Clauswitz is amazing because it's all clear, point by point thinking, with no unnecessary flourish and no grand nonsense. It's all worth thinking through, and almost entirely correct-ish.
Of course, the details vary. Things change. But the gist of Clauswitz is broadly applicable.
Dalio is like that. Except, instead of being about military science (which has limited direct impact on daily life), it's about running your life by Principles and is broadly applicable to the actions you take, decisionmaking, building teams, etc.
I came across an academic analysis of Hagakure. "Embracing Death: Pure will in Hagakure" by Olivier Ansart, University of Sydney.
It's extremely well-researched, but the author can't wrap his mind around the concepts because they're so alien to him.
Here's a footnote, for instance - emphasis added:
There would indeed be some conceptual contradiction, or at least tension, in the notion of a blind obedience that would depend on reward. The ideal of unconditional, or gratuitous, service was of course frequently encountered in the moral discourses of the period – and was later often singled out as one striking difference between the feudal relationships in Japan and in Europe. However in practice, cases where harshness, ingratitude and shabby treatment of the retainers by their master all but dissolved the obligations they felt to his person or family were even more common. After all, absent a favor to be returned could there be an intelligible reason for good and loyal service?
It's funny, because Ansart is staring at the whole picture. He has thoroughly digested the words of Hagakure, but can't think like its meaning.