This Book in a Minute (Or Less)
Living a great life requires from us many different skills and even more right decisions. The way to increase our chances to live that life is through understanding the main principles of the most important disciplines, and use those to be a nice person to be around, figure out our purpose and never stop learning.
Pebbles of Perception is split into 3 main topics: (show) Curiosity, (build) Character, and (make good) Choices. It's inspired by the legendary Poor Charlie's Almanack, and its compilation of principles and ideas from Charlie Munger, aka Warren Buffet's business pal. If these two got their fortune from a "principled" approach to business and life, how valuable can it be if we look to understand those core principles in a wide range of disciplines?
Our chances of understanding the world go up if we look at it as a whole and through a multidisciplinary lens. This book is an attempt to lead us on that journey.
Part 1 - Curiosity (The Why)
“Whoever coined the phrase "Curiosity killed the cat" did society a great disservice.”
As with answers, rarely the first question that comes to mind is the best one, the one that will get us to the answers we need. When we ask open questions the quality of our conversations tends to rise.
There are at least two levels of thinking:
- On the 1st level, you get the most immediate and visible answer. It's clear to everyone.
- On the 2nd level, you need to consider what else might be going on, perhaps caused/hidden by the 1st level.
This model of levels caused/hidden by other levels applies to multiple aspects of life. Consider 1st and 2nd order effects: On the 1st level, the COVID pandemic saturated entire hospitals with COVID patients. That's super visible and the most obvious consequence. On a 2nd level, caused by the first, people with other health issues got their medical appointments canceled or delayed. That will have another set of consequences that will generate another layer of effects, probably harder to perceive than the one originating it.
“At a certain level of competence we can navigate life pretty well, so the incentive to keep learning is not always obvious to us.”
There is no substitute for direct learning from experience, which we can even enhance through reflection...
The Feynman Method for learning a topic:
- Write the name of the topic on the top of a blank page;
- Write a clear explanation of it as if you were teaching it to someone else;
- If you get stuck, go back to source materials, and keep going back while you can't explain it in its most basic form;
- Go back and simplify your language
...or by reading more and better. How many times do we read great books only to remember close to 0 of them after 2 weeks?
Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book explains 4 levels of reading:
- We can remember what the book says.
- We can deduce what the book is about.
- We can explain what the book means.
- Deliberate and focused.
- The root to understand the book.
- We evaluate how the book holds up against others of the same topic.
We receive information through the "lenses" we are wearing: learning (better listeners) or lecturing (better talkers).
- We tend to have a default lens we prefer and I believe that shapes how we learn, teach, and even socialize with others.
- Make the learning lens the default setting by approaching conversations with an open mind. Trust your views and thoughts, but always guard against blind spots in your thinking and keep asking yourself "what am I missing here?" or "what if the other knows something that I don't?"
- Try to bring the best out of others by truly helping people get their views properly communicated.
- Leave nonconstructive criticism outside. No good out of it: someone might shut up or resort to partisan views from then on.
- Pick your words. It's not just about what you want to say, but what the other is likely to hear.
“We can only see a situation with true clarity when we take the time to carefully consider the interests at hand.” (Bonus points if we consider how the situation might be different if the underlying incentives were different.)
Incentives have the power to skew our perception and make us focus on the target and forget 2nd order effects. The most astonishing example comes from the British Empire trying to get rid of snakes in India by paying people to kill them. This failed spectacularly when people started breeding snakes to then kill for profit. The British empire figured this out and stopped the rewards and the people released all the snakes they had been breeding.
We get the behaviors we reward, even if we never intended for the behaviors that end up happening.
If we want to persuade we should appeal to interests, not reason. We should appeal to self-worth and not only to net-worth.
Always consider the context of the situation you are in. Even if we all know we can never figure out all of it (We are great at comparing alternatives, yet we suck at considering what's missing).
The steps to deal with context-dependency:
- Always consider if there is a better question or if something might be missing;
- The more difficult a decision is to revert the more you have to think about it;
- Use checklists;
- Develop a decision making framework and keep decision journals;
- Apply the "scientific method";
- Consult others with relevant experience;
- Widen the diversity of your own experience;
Part 2 - Character (The Who)
We rarely ask ourselves what makes a fulfilling life. What does it look and feel like? It's only by answering these questions we can shape our actions towards the life we would like to live.
The inversion principle - To understand the nature of a life well-lived, it is helpful to consider the nature of a life that has been wasted.
- Picture what you want and go deep on it;
- Make what would like successfully achieving what you want as detailed as possible;
- Calculate what will guarantee that you fail;
- Do the opposite of that + what gets you closest to the 1st picture;
Emotional Intelligence is classified in literature by self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, social skills, and motivation. The author widens the spectrum with the following traits:
- Acceptance. We can't change what already happened, but we can choose our reaction.
- Awareness. Noticing things.
- Character. Strong character is one of the highest compliments. It's someone you trust, has integrity and principles.
- Equanimity. Stay in control and keep the 'thinking brain' in charge of the 'acting brain', but don't become a robot.
- Interdependence. As we become emotionally mature, we begin to see interdependence as the highest form of human relations.
- Perspective. Be awake for the possibility of different perspectives and possibilities.
- Resilience. The capacity to treat setbacks as part of the forward journey.
How we relate to fear says a lot about our character. We can be paralyzed by it or we can take the time to understand the fear and see it for the thought-based construct that it is.
The majority of our fears are just thoughts attempting to impose the past, or a fearful perception of the future, on the present moment. Investigate these thoughts, understand they are impostors, and focus on the present.
It's dangerous to define ourselves by any single aspects because if we lose it we lose everything. A broad-based, exploratory approach to life is more resilient to inevitable loss.
Humans have an amazing capacity to adjust and bounce back. We take far less risk than we should, based on misjudged fear of how a loss will impact us.
“How will you ever be polished, if you are irritated by every rub?” - Rumi (Persian poet)
Knowing ourselves is one of life's great challenges, but it pays off. This gives context and clarity to the decisions we make. How do we do this?
- Examining and reflecting on our feelings. If someone makes us sad, angry, joyous, those feelings are more about us than the other person;
- Asking ourselves exploratory questions;
Accept who you find out you are. Cherish your individuality and know that not everyone will like us and that's OK.
"Be Yourself" is the lamest advice ever, but having goals and staying true to our values is not.
Our well-being is always the multiplication of physical and mental factors. If one of them is 0 it doesn't matter the other.
Physical well-being comes from the right combination of nutrition, sleep, and exercise.
Mental well-being is more complex. You just have to be great at:
- Maintain self-esteem;
- Pursue a purpose;
- Take time out;
- The balance between work and play;
- Practice accepting what happens;
- Stand up for yourself;
- Believe in something bigger than yourself;
Also, be kind to your parents. How should 20+ years of caring be reciprocated? Is it supposed to be? Is it possible? Don't wait until your parents are old to be kind to them.
SELL & NEGOTIATE
We are all born as natural sellers. If we want to get something that affects others we are selling until we get it. It all comes down to these four principles:
- People like doing business with people whom they like and trust;
- If we are selling we might as well spend most of the time with the people most likely to buy;
- The best salespeople see rejection as a way to learn and improve on their skills, and not as a blow to the ego;
- We must genuinely believe that we are helping someone do what is right for them;
A negotiation happens any time there is a possible exchange between parties who have the choice not to.
The 7 steps for a successful negotiation:
- Prepare. Have clear goals;
- Seek to understand the "terrain" (incentives) for both parties. Especially the difference between what the parties say they want vs what they really want;
- Seek bigger pies, not bigger slices;
- Take your time. Don't fall into the rush trap, it will be easier to accept less than a fair deal;
- Rarely accept a 1st offer (even if better than original expectations);
- Believe that virtually everything is negotiable;
- Delve into differences. Trading things of different perceived value increases the pie.
Special ingredient: Principled sellers only sell a product/service that they believe in.
It's probably the main ingredient in life, what you can expect to have in most abundance. Things are not as we think they should be, and so we need to deal with them by changing, if possible, or accepting them.
In adversity employ:
- Understand the nature of adversity, for what is understood is less frightening;
- Understand that is inevitable, indiscriminate and, sometimes, arbitrary;
- Face it head-on;
- Ask yourself, "what is life expecting of me now?";
- Update your life story with the different person you became after going through this event;
Part 3 - Choice (The What)
Work smarter, not harder. An underappreciated aspect of life is that the rewards received are not directly proportional to the effort expended.
Working on something that we enjoy should be a core objective to us all. Take into account this might require some trials before getting it right and might change with time.
Instead of "following your passion" do as much as possible of what you enjoy doing AND you are good at. Your passion emerges from this. It's something that follows you and not the other way around.
The 2 types of monetary reward systems:
- Based on the hours you put it. We can improve the speed, productivity, etc, but those improvements are limited and the number of hours is finite, and so rewards are also limited.
- Based on the value you create. You do it once and it sells indefinitely or the effort it takes to come up with value is disproportionate to what people will pay for it.
Work with people you trust and respect. Play with infinite players.
What we truly treasure comes from experiences not things. That's why it's interesting to entertain how we should give ourselves as early as possible the widest array of experiences, so that we have longer to savor them and gain their lessons.
“Facts fill the mind, experiences open it.”
If you enjoyed this, there are many others to come.
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