Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge by Terence McKenna is a book that’s frequently mentioned by experts in the psychedelic community, and for good reason. McKenna, a legendary writer and commentator on drug culture, was an ethnobotanist by training. In this book, he explores humanity’s ancient relationship with chemicals that alter consciousness, as well as the historical impact of drugs on Eastern and Western societies. Food of the Gods Key Takeaways will be focused on the major historical points as well as McKenna’s prescriptions but I highly recommend reading this book yourself to get the entire (complicated and entertaining) story.
Last week, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers signed the largest contract in NFL history, worth up to $180 million over the next six years, with about $70 million being paid out by March 2019. As a Packers fan, it’s a relief to know that Rodgers is signed until he’s 40. At the same time, reading the specifics and comments about the contract got me thinking about what it means to be the “highest paid” person on a team, in a league, or even within a company.
Being the highest paid is, in large part, not a function of your financial needs but instead a recognition that you are the “most valuable” player on the team or in your industry. It’s also a function of what the competition is paying for similar players – it is no accident that Rodgers’ contract came mere months after Kirk Cousins’ record-setting $84 million, three year contract.
But there is a flip side to being paid the most. The highest paid person on the team – whether the quarterback, the star basketball player, or the CEO – will also be the first one blamed if things take a turn for the worse. Compensation and blame are two sides of the same coin. You can bet that if the Packers have a bad season, commentators and fans will be blaming Aaron Rodgers’ contract for the team’s lack of talent.
Everything else being equal, we’re all trying to make as much money as we can. But it’s important to recognize that the more you get paid, the more you’ll be blamed if things go badly. And this is a fair, reasonable, and ethical reaction – and an essential point of Nassim Taleb’s Skin in the Game.
Anger over executive compensation happens most often when there is a separation between compensation and an executive’s skin in the game. This anger is most obvious when the CEO of a badly performing company makes millions of dollars, despite their lackluster results. Most of us don’t have much issue with Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk being billionaires – they took enormous personal risks to build their respective companies. On the other hand, most people would have problems with a Congressperson becoming a billionaire while in office.
Of course, this rule doesn’t just apply to CEOs and quarterbacks. It’s true at all levels, whether you’re a team lead at a software company or a store manager at McDonald’s. Being compensated better automatically means you will have a greater share of the blame if your team performs badly. And that’s how it should be.
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.
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.
Related reading: Crony Beliefs by Kevin Simler (Melting Asphalt)
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.
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:
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 Watts, The 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:
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:
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:
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.
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.