Here’s some stuff I am reading, watching, and thinking about this weekend…
Book I’m Reading – The Art of Learning
One of the best books on the art of learning I’ve read is, well, The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. I picked it up again this week, and it was as refreshing as the original read.
Josh is a champion in two distinct sports – chess and martial arts. He is an eight-time US national chess champion, thirteen-time Tai Chi Chuan push hands national champion, and two-time Tai Chi Chuan push hands world champion. In his book, Josh recounts his experiences and shares his insights and approaches on how you can learn and excel in your own life’s passion, using examples from his personal life. Through stories of martial arts wars and tense chess face-offs, Josh reveals the inner workings of his everyday methods, cultivating the most powerful techniques in any field, and mastering the psychology of peak performance.
One of my favourite chapters is titled – Making Smaller Circles – which stresses on the fact that it’s rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skillset. Josh writes that depth scores over breadth when it comes to learning anything –
The learning principle is to plunge into the detailed mystery of the micro in order to understand what makes the macro tick. Our obstacle is that we live in an attention-deficit culture. We are bombarded with more and more information on television, radio, cell phones, video games, the Internet. The constant supply of stimulus has the potential to turn us into addicts, always hungering for something new and prefabricated to keep us entertained. When nothing exciting is going on, we might get bored, distracted, separated from the moment. So we look for new entertainment, surf channels, flip through magazines.
If caught in these rhythms, we are like tiny current-bound surface fish, floating along a two-dimensional world without any sense for the gorgeous abyss below.
When these societally induced tendencies translate into the learning process, they have devastating effect.
Josh’s idea of making smaller circles is a great way to decide how to live, what to read, and how to invest sensibly.
To reiterate, the concept of making smaller circles, as outlined in Josh’s book, stresses on the fact that it’s rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skillset.
When it comes to investing, this concept applies in the way that you must do just a few small things right to create wealth over the long run. You just need some simple ideas. You just need to draw a few small circles. And then you put all your focus and energies there. That’s all you need to succeed in your pursuit of becoming a good learner, and a good investor.
Articles I’m Reading
If there’s one podcast transcript I read almost every month, it is the one from Farnam Street’s session with Naval Ravikant, the CEO and a co-founder of AngelList. Naval is an incredibly deep thinker and challenges the status quo on so many things. This aspect comes out very clear in this podcast.
One of my favourite sections is when Naval talks about the idea of being happy –
When it comes to learn to be happy, train yourself to be happy, completely internal, no external progress, no external validation, 100% you’re competing against yourself, single-player game. We are such social creatures, we’re more like bees or ants, that we’re externally programmed and driven, that we just don’t know how to play and win at these single-player games anymore. We compete purely on multi-player games. The reality is life is a single-player game. You’re born alone. You’re going to die alone. All your interpretations are alone. All your memories are alone. You’re gone in three generations and nobody cares. Before you showed up, nobody cared. It’s all single-player.
On the aspects of learning and what to lead kids to learn, Naval said this –
I think learning should be about learning the basics in all the fields and learning them really well over and over. Life is mostly about applying the basics and only doing the advanced stuff in the things that you truly love and where you understand the basics inside out. That’s not how our system is built.
We teach all these kids calculus and they walk out not understanding calculus at all. Really they would have been better off served doing arithmetic and basic computer programming the entire time. I think there’s a pace of learning issue.
Then there’s finally a what to learn. There’s a whole set of things we don’t even bother trying to teach. We don’t teach nutrition. We don’t teach cooking. We don’t teach how to be in happy, positive relationships. We don’t teach how to keep your body healthy and fit. We just say sports. We don’t teach happiness. We don’t teach meditation. Maybe we shouldn’t teach some of these things because different kids will have different aptitudes, but maybe we should. Maybe we should teach practical construction of technology. Maybe everyone in their science project, instead of building a little chemistry volcano, maybe you should be building a smartphone.
Ben Carlson, author of the blog and a nice book by the same name – A Wealth of Common Sense – recently wrote about few financial advices he thinks are not talked about much but offer big financial payoffs. One such advice, and that I believe makes great sense, is about why time and health matter more than wealth. Ben wrote –
Cornelius Vanderbilt’s son William was far and away the richest person in the world after doubling the inheritance given to him by his late father in just 6 years. But the burden of wealth brought him nothing but anxiety. He spent all of his time managing his substantial wealth through the family’s businesses, which meant he had no time to enjoy his money or take care of his body.
He once said of a neighbor who didn’t have as much money, “He isn’t worth a hundredth part as much as I am, but he has more of the real pleasures of life than I have. His house is as comfortable as mine, even if it didn’t cost so much; his team is about as good as mine; his opera box is next to mine; his health is better than mine, and he will probably outlive me. And he can trust his friends.”
William also told his nephew, “What’s the use, Sam, of having all this money if you cannot enjoy it? My wealth is no comfort to me if I have not good health behind it.”
All the money in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have the time or the health to enjoy it.
This is one timeless advice, I think.
Before the internet, and before people lived in large cities, the circle of people our ancestors may have come into contact might be only a couple hundred people. Out of two or three hundred people, it may have not been too hard to be in the top tenth percentile at something.
Now, when your circle of acquaintances is the whole internet, being in the top tenth percentile of anything takes years of determined effort. Our brains still have expectations rooted in these smaller communities: That we should be able to create something exceptional and praiseworthy for our efforts.
Amidst this, it was fresh to read a perspective in praise of mediocrity –
If you’re a jogger, it is no longer enough to cruise around the block; you’re training for the next marathon. If you’re a painter, you are no longer passing a pleasant afternoon, just you, your watercolors and your water lilies; you are trying to land a gallery show or at least garner a respectable social media following. When your identity is linked to your hobby — you’re a yogi, a surfer, a rock climber — you’d better be good at it, or else who are you?
You see, there is no disgrace in appreciating mediocrity, in accepting our limits. And, by the way, the reason we call them limits is because rejecting them is what gets us into trouble.
Thought I’m Meditating On
There are two things I would never say when referring to the market: “get out” and “it’s time.” I’m not that smart, and I’m never that sure. The media like to hear people say “get in” or “get out,” but most of the time the correct action is somewhere in between. Investing is not black or white, in or out, risky or safe. The key word is “calibrate.” The amount you have invested, your allocation of capital among the various possibilities, and the riskiness of the things you own all should be calibrated along a continuum that runs from aggressive to defensive. ~ Howard Marks, in Mastering the Market Cycle
Video I’m Watching
Do schools kill creativity? You bet they do. In this video, Sir Ken Robinson, noted British author, speaker and international advisor on education in the arts, provides ample proof that schools do kill creativity. He also makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity. This is another one of my favourite videos!
Enjoy your weekend,