5/13 – What’s Next
Hey, hope you have a great week.
I cannot believe I am graduating college this week. Time flies!!
Articles to Read.
It’s useful to focus on adding another zero to whatever you define as your success metric—money, status, impact on the world, or whatever. I am willing to take as much time as needed between projects to find my next thing. But I always want it to be a project that, if successful, will make the rest of my career look like a footnote.
I think the biggest competitive advantage in business—either for a company or for an individual’s career—is long-term thinking with a broad view of how different systems in the world are going to come together. One of the notable aspects of compound growth is that the furthest out years are the most important. In a world where almost no one takes a truly long-term view, the market richly rewards those who do.
Self-belief is immensely powerful. The most successful people I know believe in themselves almost to the point of delusion.
Let’s consider the fate of Giaccomo, a 19th century local Italian musician living just before the advent of recorded music. Musical performance at this time is a decidedly non-scalable affair: if you want to be musically entertained, you need to be present to a musician in person. As such, Giaccomo cannot scalably export his work, but neither can the big opera singers in Milan who might otherwise compete with him. Geography and physical proximity represent a strong point of friction — with only a handful of other musicians in town, Giaccomo can set a fair price and earn a decent profit so long as his vocal chords remain in good shape.
Now imagine what happens with the invention of the phonograph. Suddenly poor Giaccomo is competing against the Milan big shots! His unit of trade (his voice) has been abstracted away into the etchings on a wax disc. As far as the residents of the town are concerned, this is a great development. They can now pay a fraction of what they used to, and in return receive an endlessly replayable recording of a superior artist! But for Giaccomo, this sucks. Physical proximity, which used to be a point of friction off of which he could extract earnings, is now easily circumvented; it becomes much harder for him to make a profit, or even get paid at all. Even if Giaccomo were able to get access to his own recording equipment, it would be to little avail: a new point of friction has emerged, distribution, with which he has no skill in dealing.
A new scarce and non-scalable element emerged out of the new scalability of musical performance: distribution. An entirely new industry came to life, which we now know as record labels, who sit at the newfound point of friction and extract profit.
The author works a 20-hour shift, lives on chocolate bars, and writes best in her cashmere nightgown.
Let’s look at the numbers, shall we? The author has written 179 books, which have been translated into 43 languages. Twenty-two of them have been adapted for television, and two of those adaptations have received Golden Globe nominations. Steel releases seven new novels a year—her latest, Blessing in Disguise, is out this week—and she’s at work on five to six new titles at all times. In 1989 Steel was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having a book on the New York Times best-seller list for the most consecutive weeks of any author—381, to be exact. To pull it off, she works 20 to 22 hours a day. (A few times a month, when she feels the crunch, she spends a full 24 hours at her desk.)
Football coaches can be easy to caricature: all that intensity, all those pep talks, all those promises to build character. I certainly don’t romanticize them. I don’t believe that they make better young men, just better football players. But I wish math teachers were more like football coaches.
No one expects a math teacher to tell a talented student that he or she could become the next John von Neumann. (No one expects math teachers to tell students about von Neumann — perhaps the greatest mathematician of the 20th century — at all.) And no one expects math teachers to talk with the kind of fire, or to demand the kind of commitment and accountability, that football coaches do. But I wish they did.
Books are easy to take for granted. Not any specific book, I mean: the form of a book. Paper or pixels—it hardly matters. Words in lines on pages in chapters. And at least for non-fiction books, one implied assumption at the foundation: people absorb knowledge by reading sentences. This last idea so invisibly defines the medium that it’s hard not to take for granted, which is a shame because, as we’ll see, it’s quite mistaken.
Now, the books I named aren’t small investments. Each takes around 6–9 hours to read. Adult American college graduates read 24 minutes a day on average, so a typical reader might spend much of a month with one of these books. Millions of people have read each of these books, so that’s tens of millions of hours spent. In exchange for all that time, how much knowledge was absorbed? How many people absorbed most of the knowledge the author intended to convey? Or even just what they intended to acquire? I suspect it’s a small minority.
I’m not suggesting that all those hours were wasted. Many readers enjoyed reading those books. That’s wonderful! Certainly most readers absorbed something, however ineffable: points of view, ways of thinking, norms, inspiration, and so on. Indeed, for many books (and in particular most fiction), these effects are the point.
A study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in January, based on a sample of 12,000 12- to 17-year-olds who were surveyed on two occasions one year apart, confirmed that teenagers who try e-cigarettes are more likely than those who don’t to subsequently try conventional cigarettes. That finding is consistent with Gottlieb’s fear. But it is also consistent with the hypothesis that pre-existing differences make some teenagers more likely to experiment with both products.
The overall vaping rate rose between the two surveys while the smoking rate declined, which is consistent with other surveys. In fact, adolescent smoking rates have reached record lows as experimentation with e-cigarettes has surged. A study reported in the journal Tobacco Control last year found the downward trend in smoking among teenagers accelerated as vaping became more common.
According to some, this is the entrance to hell.
This is the Kola Superdeep Borehole, the deepest manmade hole on Earth and deepest artificial point on Earth. The 40,230ft-deep (12.2km) construction is so deep that locals swear you can hear the screams of souls tortured in hell. It took the Soviets almost 20 years to drill this far, but the drill bit was still only about one-third of the way through the crust to the Earth’s mantle when the project came grinding to a halt in the chaos of post-Soviet Russia.
More to Check Out:
– How to build a cathedral
– Busting the myth that depression doesn’t affect people in poor countries
– Automation Transformed How Pilots Fly Planes. Now Must Happen With Cars
– Widening the Gender Gap
– Are the dead taking over Facebook?
- Graduating College this Friday. Then traveling to Portugal for 8 days. Let me know if you have tips!
Thanks so much for reading! Find me on twitter : )