No. 475 — June 5th, 2022
Welcome to Sunday Brain Food: a weekly newsletter full of timeless ideas and insights for life and business.
(Was this shared with you? Sign up here.)
“The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means … allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”
“We know more than we’re able to explain that we know. And I call this inarticulate knowledge — the knowledge that I’m not able to articulate to somebody. And I have inarticulate knowledge about a lot of things, including other people. I could have tacit knowledge of why I trust somebody that I couldn’t explain to you. If you asked me to give you specific things, I wouldn’t be able to point to that, “Oh, there’s that one time when we were hanging out together,” because it’s probably not any one particular thing. It’s probably a series of things, call it a gut feeling. I just have that. And I have the same thing for mistrust. Right? And I think that this kind of tacit knowledge and articulate knowledge is undervalued in our society. It’s undervalued because we always want to be able to explain the science and give the hard reasons for it. But a lot of life doesn’t work like that.”
Entrepreneur, author, and educator Luke Burgis joins me for a deep dive on the René Girard and mimetic desire, different forms of knowing, and living a meaningful life.
→ Listen on FS (with show notes), Apple Podcasts, Spotify, watch on YouTube, or read the transcript.
“Objectives are well and good when they are sufficiently modest, but things get a lot more complicated when they’re more ambitious. In fact, objectives actually become obstacles towards more exciting achievements, like those involving discovery, creativity, invention, or innovation—or even achieving true happiness. In other words (and here is the paradox), the greatest achievements become less likely when they are made objectives. Not only that, but this paradox leads to a very strange conclusion—if the paradox is really true then the best way to achieve greatness, the truest path to “blue sky” discovery or to fulfill boundless ambition, is to have no objective at all.”— Kenneth Stanley and Joel Lehman writing in Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned:
Where you apply focus matters more than how much focus you have.
In every area of life, there is a hidden asymmetry. If you apply your focus like everyone else, you will get the same results as everyone else. Understanding where to apply your focus makes a massive difference in results.
Everyone knows that focus matters. Most people don’t know where to focus. Telling people “to focus more” is about as helpful as telling them to “make better decisions.” Common advice but useless in practice.
Not all focus is equal. Some focus is asymmetric. Knowing where to focus makes a difference.
How do you know where to focus? The answer is a deep fluency in the problem. You need to embed yourself in the problem and the details. You need to try things, reflect, and learn. Sooner or later, you start to understand the hidden asymmetry.
A lot of business people treat all decisions the same, no matter the implications. They’ll spend as much time trying to decide a trivial decision as a major one. A lot of authors focus on the work and miss that how it’s positioned for the audience matters more. A lot of people go to the gym 4 days a week only to miss that what goes into their body and the amount of sleep matter more.
The visible problem might appear to be a lack of focus, but the invisible problem is often not knowing where to focus to get the best results.
In any field, a few areas of focus make an asymmetric difference. Often they’re hiding in plain sight and ignored by most.
One place to find asymmetry is to listen to people talk about others’ success … “that book sold a lot, but did you read it, it’s not well written.” That’s an indication that the quality of writing matters less than you think and something else matters more. Or consider the person that explains another person’s success away with “luck.” There might be an element of luck to it, sure, but when you pull back the curtain, I bet you discover they’re focusing a little bit more on something different. Success leaves clues.
What looks like a lack of focus is often a lack of understanding.
(Share this Tiny Thought on Twitter)
→ The Collison Brothers and Stripe. “They also still personally fill out ‘friction logs’ of any user-unfriendly moments they encounter using Stripe and, in Patrick’s case, occasionally dive into the code itself.” (Listen to Patrick’s incredible interview on TKP.)
→ Everything is Terrible but I’m fine. “With greater access to news on social media and the internet, Americans are more deluged than they used to be by depressing stories. (And the news cycle really can be pretty depressing!) This is leading to a kind of perma-gloom about the state of the world, even as we maintain a certain resilience about the things that we have the most control over.”
→ Mental Models for Better Thinking. You can join our course that teaches you exactly how to create your own latticework of mental models and put them to use.
P.S. Check expiry dates.