The Elephant in the Brain Key Takeaways

The Elephant in the Brain Key Takeaways

The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson is a book primarily about how the human brain engages in self-deception to serve our own (sometimes ugly) motives. We’ll get deeper into The Elephant in the Brain key takeaways below but in summary, our brains have evolved to hide our own motives from ourselves. This may seem odd at first – isn’t introspection considered a good thing? The answer is clearly that it has been an evolutionary advantage to not fully understand our own motives. The purpose of this book is to shine light on the true motives behind many of our behaviors and social institutions – like school, medicine, government, non-profits, and more.

For those who prefer to listen to The Elephant in the Brain Key Takeaways, you can listen to our Made You Think podcast episode on this book below.

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Uncomfortable Reading

People have many different reasons for reading books. Some read purely for pleasure. Others read to expand their horizons and experience different perspectives. And some read for personal growth. These reasons are of course not exhaustive and often overlap.

Reading or not, personal growth requires getting out of your comfort zone. And though I suspect many readers would claim they are reading for personal growth, the reading choices many of us make seem to simply reinforce ideas and beliefs we already have. This is a version of confirmation bias and may be the adult version of carrying around a teddy bear or security blanket. Constantly reading books and articles we already know we will agree with feels good. It’s comfortable. It’s satisfying in the way a chocolate chip cookie is satisfying.

I’m a major believer in the power of books to transform beliefs and lives so it pains me to criticize anyone’s reading habits. However, in early 2018 I noticed this tendency happening more and more in my own reading. The articles and books I was reading had fallen into a predictable pattern. I wasn’t being challenged.

We’ve consciously been thinking about this phenomenon as we select which books to cover on Made You Think. For example, I’m a strong believer in the Lindy Effect but this belief was directly challenged by The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch. Nat and I are both free market believers but we made sure to read and cover The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, which promotes socialism and exposes capitalism’s shortcomings. And most recently, we covered The War on Normal People by Andrew Yang, which promotes universal basic income (UBI) as the solution to many economic and social problems facing the United States.

I won’t lie to you – each of these books was a challenge to read. But the challenge was enjoyable in the way a difficult workout is enjoyable. I could feel my mind getting back into the dialogue that takes place when you read an author who challenges your closely held (or perhaps, crony) beliefs.

And you know what else happened? Some of my beliefs changed! David Deutsch’s assertion that humanity can solve any problem given sufficient knowledge and wealth is incredibly uplifting…and turns out isn’t delusional (but you’ll have to read the book to find out why). Andrew Yang’s universal basic income proposal isn’t as crazy as it sounds and is far more doable than I had previously imagined.

If the purpose of your reading is to self-affirm, then by all means, read things you know you’ll agree with. But if your goal is personal growth, then picking up books you may disagree with is crucial. Embrace the discomfort and purposely read something today that challenges your closely held beliefs.

*****

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Related reading: Crony Beliefs by Kevin Simler (Melting Asphalt)

 

 

Setting the Table Key Takeaways

Setting the Table Key Takeaways

As I’ve dived deeper into the hospitality world because of Unlimited Brewing, I’ve found that I really enjoy reading books by folks in the restaurant industry. In particular, I’ve enjoyed Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, Work Clean by Dan Charnas, and The Kitchen and The Cook by Nicolas Freeling. While all of these books were entertaining and had great takeaways, the most immediately applicable takeaways were found in Setting the Table by restauranteur Danny Meyer, the entrepreneur behind Union Square Cafe, Blue Smoke, and last but certainly not least, Shake Shack. Without further ado, let’s get into our Setting the Table key takeaways.

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Skin in the Game Key Takeaways

Skin in the Game

Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life is the long awaited fourth installment of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Incerto series. If you follow Taleb on Twitter or are familiar with his other work, you’ll be familiar with the central premise of this book, namely that there should be a symmetry between share of benefits and share of harm, and that there are asymmetries that exist in a variety of domains, but especially in politics and business. This is post is pretty long because there are just so many Skin in the Game key takeaways – this book is absolutely packed with insight.

It is not necessary to have read the rest of Incerto before reading Skin in the Game. If you are completely new to Taleb’s work, I would recommend starting with this book as it gives you his ideas and style in a narrative, entertaining format, as opposed to the mathematical plus narrative style of his previous books. That is because the SITG concept is more qualitative than other topics Taleb has discussed in the past. As Taleb himself says in the Introduction: “To this author, skin in the game is mostly about justice, honor, and sacrifice, things that are essential for humans.”

For those who would rather listen to Skin in the Game key takeaways, you can listen to a Made You Think podcast episode about this book:

Let’s get into the key takeaways:

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12 Rules For Life Key Takeaways

12 Rules For Life

Those of you who follow me on Twitter, listen to the podcast I co-host, or subscribe to my newsletter, know I’m a huge fan of Jordan Peterson’s work. Dr. Peterson, the author of 12 Rules for Life, is a controversial figure, to say the least and has come under fire primarily for his refusal to use certain gender pronouns, after being compelled to by Canadian legislation (Bill C-16), which he views as a violation of free speech. I will ignore that issue in this post and instead focus on Dr. Peterson’s work and book 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

Along with The Way of Zen by Alan WattsThe Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, and Nassim Taleb’s work, nothing has done more to evolve my view on religion than the lecture series Dr. Peterson has done on the psychological and metaphorical interpretation of the Bible. I’ve come to believe there is nearly limitless wisdom contained in ancient religious texts, perhaps not from the literal, materialistic viewpoint, but certainly their advice on how to act in the world rings true.

Dr. Peterson’s book is, in many ways, a distillation of his lectures on religion combined with his deep knowledge of psychology. Quite simply, this book is a must-read. Nat Eliason and I also did a Made You Think Podcast episode on this book, which you can listen to below:

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The Lindy Effect and The Future of Beer

In today’s world, we’re constantly being inundated with “newness”. It seems like every day, there’s a new startup or company coming up with a technology to improve how we do things. Despite how much media hype there is around these new technologies, it’s hard to know which ones have lasting power and which will fall by the wayside.

When looking at something new, a mental heuristic I find really helpful is examining it through the lens of the Lindy Effect. Those who have read Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan and Antifragile are already familiar with the Lindy Effect. If you haven’t, here’s a brief summary (though you should still go read the books):

The Lindy Effect refers to the life expectancy of non-perishable things, like ideas or technology. Basically, the rule states that the longer something has been around, the longer it will be around.

An easy way to grasp this concept is to compare two successful books, one old – say, The Bible and one new – like Fifty Shades of Grey. The Bible has been around for about two thousand years while Fifty Shades has only been around for a handful of years. Which book is more likely to still be around in a hundred or a thousand years? Obviously The Bible. This concept applies to more than just books though – it applies to anything. Technology, media, transportation – everything. Something which survives a long time has, by definition, gone through the crucible of time…and survived. That bodes very well for its future survivability.

While not true 100% of the time, the Lindy Effect can be a useful tool for predicting which new technologies or ideas will survive and which are just blips on the radar. A great example of this is the butter vs margarine debate. For literally thousands of years, humans have consumed butter. Then, for a brief stint during the twentieth century, humans were told butter was bad for them and many people switched to margarine. But as is becoming readily apparent, butter isn’t nearly as bad as once thought and margarine may literally kill you. And accordingly, butter has made a comeback. Which is more likely to be around in a hundred years?

Thanks to what I do for a living, I’ve been thinking about the current state of the beer industry and looking at it through the “Lindy Lens”. I’ve made a series of predictions with explanations below that arise from following the Lindy Effect to its logical conclusions in the beer realm:

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The Way of Zen Key Takeaways

The Way of Zen

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts is a book I had heard a lot about over the years but had never actually taken the time to read.

Similarly, the concept of “zen” is pervasive in popular culture yet I would argue that very few of us know what the word is referring to.

A quick disclaimer about everything in the key takeaways below: these notes are the parts of the book which spoke to me. I make no claims on it being a comprehensive overview of Zen Buddhism or of The Way of Zen. If the ideas below intrigue you, reading the book will give you a much better grasp of these (admittedly) difficult to verbalize ideas.

You can also listen to a deep dive discussion of this book from the Made You Think Podcast:

Key takeaways below:

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Planting Seeds

I’ve been making a point to ask startup founders I hang out with for advice, particularly about management, priorities, and growth. I’m mainly trying to preemptively ensure we at Unlimited Brewing don’t fall into the same traps that others have already solved.

A few weeks ago, my friend (and East Village neighbor!) Sebastian Metti gave some advice which really stuck with me. I asked Sebastian how founders should spend their time. His response was super simple:

“You should spend your time planting seeds.”

This is brilliant advice. The idea of “planting seeds” loosely translates to building relationships, which applies to sales, business development, hiring, fundraising, press, and pretty much everything else. Some of these “seeds” will flourish and yield gigantic harvests. Most of them will go nowhere. And that’s totally fine.

planting seeds

When a business is just getting off the ground, the founder is the entire company. They need to build, sell, market, pick up the trash – everything. But as a company grows, there’s no way the founder will be the most skilled in every function. Nor should they want to be. That said, the founder will still be the only person with a high enough view of the company AND the ability to steer the company where it needs to go. And that’s where building the right strategic relationships becomes super important.

Back to planting seeds.

The Wisdom of Finance Key Takeaways

wisdom of finance

I first came across Mihir Desai and his ideas when I encountered the transcript of his Harvard commencement speech on optionality. His speech (among others) helped inspire my Optionality Trap blog post. Mihir and I eventually connected via email and I learned that he had written what I now know to be an excellent book, called The Wisdom of Finance.

Finance is something I’ve had more than a passing interest in for the better part of a decade. Back in high school, I was pretty sure I wanted to go into finance. Even the 2008-2009 financial crisis did nothing to shake that belief. What did eventually shake it, however, was an Introduction to Mathematical Finance class, which I found to be so abstract and irrelevant to the “real world” that I eventually dropped both the class and the idea of studying finance altogether.

While reading The Wisdom of Finance, I re-learned why I was interested in finance in the first place – namely, its intimate connection to real, human problems.

As a side note: It’s always an awesome experience to read an author with erudition like Mihir Desai. I got something like twenty other book recommendations out of this book, many of them fiction.

Below are my key takeaways and notes from The Wisdom of Finance:

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This Is What Elon Musk Does To Prevent Corporate Silos

Elon Musk hates corporate silos
Tesla CEO Elon Musk really hates corporate silos

In a verified publicly available email, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed his thoughts on corporate silos and hierarchical information flow. Here’s the email:

Subject: Communication Within Tesla

There are two schools of thought about how information should flow within companies. By far the most common way is chain of command, which means that you always flow communication through your manager. The problem with this approach is that, while it serves to enhance the power of the manager, it fails to serve the company.

Instead of a problem getting solved quickly, where a person in one dept talks to a person in another dept and makes the right thing happen, people are forced to talk to their manager who talks to their manager who talks to the manager in the other dept who talks to someone on his team. Then the info has to flow back the other way again. This is incredibly dumb. Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company. No kidding.

Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission. Moreover, you should consider yourself obligated to do so until the right thing happens. The point here is not random chitchat, but rather ensuring that we execute ultra-fast and well. We obviously cannot compete with the big car companies in size, so we must do so with intelligence and agility.

One final point is that managers should work hard to ensure that they are not creating silos within the company that create an us vs. them mentality or impede communication in any way. This is unfortunately a natural tendency and needs to be actively fought. How can it possibly help Tesla for depts to erect barriers between themselves or see their success as relative within the company instead of collective? We are all in the same boat. Always view yourself as working for the good of the company and never your dept.

Thanks,
Elon

There are sooo many great points in this email. Let’s break them down:

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