Monthly Archives: May 2006

Book Review: Fooled by Randomness

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets is one of the most important non-fiction books I’ve read in years. Buy it, read it.

I’ve said before that hard work is highly overrated and luck is highly underrated.

I believe luck is the single most important attribute of successful people and that raw intelligence has never mattered less.

I believe we tell ourselves stories to construct a preferred narrative of our lives; we connect the dots of our life to make it seem like we did a lot of smart decision making.

And I believe this self-deception is important for self-confidence, an attribute which I believe separates the good from the great.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb touches on many of these points and coheres them into a powerful, entertaining read on how randomness affects our life (and our investing). He touches on various disciplines: cognitive science, statistics and mathematics, genetics, psychology, and social science.

When some people talk about luck and randomness they seem to think of it as totally out of their control. This is true, to an extent, but there are two action-item questions for me:

  1. How can I expose myself to more randomness?
  2. How can I be sure I maximize my good luck when it comes and mitigate my bad luck?

For you investor types, Fooled by Randomness fits well with Winning the Loser’s Game. Active mutual fund managers or index funds? After reading these kinds of books, it’s a no-brainer. (Here’s a New Yorker article on Taleb and investing.)

This is one of those books which I’ll re-read soon, type up notes, and continue to chew on the very provocative thesis for months to come. Thanks Brad Feld for recommending it — although I don’t think it’s just required reading for people who think about probability; I think it’s required reading for everyone!

Thank You for Sharing — Oprah's Impact on Our Culture

During the James Frey brouhaha the one thing I focused on was how in the world Oprah Winfrey single handedly made that book (and many others) best sellers. Her impact on the book world and on our culture in general is amazing. Lee Siegel has a really good and provocative cover piece in The New Republic (free registration required) on Oprah’s message. "Thank You For Sharing" underpins the Oprah message. Understanding how big time influentials think is important simply because millions of people emulate them. Go read it.

Winfreyism is the expression of an immensely reassuring and inspiring message that has, without doubt, helped millions of people carry on with their lives. And it is also an empty, cynical, icily selfish outlook on life that undercuts its own positive energy at every turn.

Some People Are Better in Email

I like some people better in email than in person. Why is this the case?

One theory: For in-person interactions there is a smorgasbord of interpersonal styles to choose from. Some may be more appealing to me than others. In email, there are less styles. Some people really "get" effective email communications. Others don’t. So, for people who "get" email but have an interpersonal style that I find annoying, they’re more likable electronically.

I am trying to sort my network by people who I like via email more than in-person, and remind myself to send them lots of email instead of requests for coffees.

Why Do Young People Take More Risks Than Old People?

Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Young people have more years to live, so they should be more careful about doing something now that could get them killed.

In a speech once I said, "Youth dare the things age will fear." I wonder why (besides chemical reasons).

Did You See Me Being Escorted Out of the Red Carpet Club Today?

I’m going to be in Europe for seven weeks this summer, so I suppose today is helping me build my "travel endurance." I don’t mind traveling, even when there are headaches, because everyone around me is flipping out so I get many good laughs. Today was "one of those days" — stranded at Chicago O’Hare. If you saw a tall guy with uncombed hair being escorted out of the United Red Carpet Club today (long story), yeah, that was me. You’ll find me now at the Chicago Hyatt Regency where I’ve been put up for the night by the world’s most fucked up airline. Thanks United!!!

Rapleaf Is Hiring – Portable Ratings System for Buyers and Sellers

Friend Auren Hoffman has started a cool company called Rapleaf. In a nutshell, Rapleaf is a portable ratings system for buyers and sellers (think eBay feedback system but open and portable).

When I met with Auren a few weeks ago we talked about how important it is for start-ups to hire the right people from the start. "A" people are worth an order of magnitude more than "B" people though their compensation does not always account for this added impact enough. So, Auren’s willing to pay top dollar to get the right guys and gals on the team.

They’re looking for a non-engineer to do everything that is not engineering-oriented including:

  • Marketing
  • Business development
  • Product stuff
  • Finance
  • Recruiting
  • Customer service systems
  • And more

Among the other qualifications, Auren says the right candidate must "laugh a lot and generally be very happy." Yes — I think happiness should now be on every job spec. Unhappy people do not make good employees.

If you’re interested, check out their product and email [email protected]

Listening to an Old Audio Journal Entry

I just listened to a ten-minute audio journal entry I recorded in February 2003. I wish I kept a more detailed journal (if you don’t keep one or blog you must do so!). Nonetheless, this entry was pretty revealing.

I reviewed my activities for the prior two weeks. I’m shocked at how busy I was (I was 15 yrs old). Over a two week stretch, I spent five full days in LA doing pitches and every day after school doing pitches in the Bay Area. I snuck into a non-vendor conference where clients were mingling in Monterey, spent the night, and then stood outside the door the following morning to greet people. I was on the phone every single day with my chief advisor Mike as we were in the midst of a major executive recruitment process. I had conference calls during long car rides. Our advisory board and I had long weekend and night meetings. I had various lunches and calls during the week. Somewhere along the way, I was bumped up to the varsity basketball team as a sophomore. And how did my two week stretch end? A routine check-in to the doctor, of course, where I was told I had high blood pressure. Indeed.

I guess my question is: When was I at school? Did I even go to classes? Does the fact that I remember nothing from freshman year mean anything? The only thing I remember is fighting the librarian to allow me to lock my laptop to the table and take calls in the conference room….

Evolution of Dance — Funny YouTube Video

In my forthcoming book I write:

If aliens are watching us, trying to understand human behavior, I think they are most perplexed at dancing. Some kinds of dancing make logical sense – you perform certain actions according to beats or rhythms. But the kind of dancing I stumbled across at high school parties was quite different.

Whereas I actually I have OK dancing abilities — assuming it’s disco/80’s music — I have nothing like this guy in this hilarious YouTube video Evolution of Dance. And I’m sure if you’re older than me you will recognize even more of these dance moves to hits of the different decades.

Separating My RSS Feeds By Priority

I think a lot about productivity, managing energy, time, etc. A big part of this is my information intake of which my RSS reader is a meaty (though not the biggest) portion.

I have a lot of theories around this. One of them has to do with temporality. For example, today on the bike I read The Economist instead of HBR or Harper’s because I know the Economist is relevant this week and may be less relevant in a few weeks. I will be awake for about 11 more hours today (Sunday) and I will be working for probably 9 of them. There are many things I simply need to get done today. If I start to drift into stuff not relevant or necessary for my work today and tomorrow, I will try to re-focus. Of course, this approach needs to be balanced with long-term projects, deep thinking, books, etc.

My RSS reader, though, has not until now been structured like this. All my 280 feeds have been in one giant folder and a few times a day I scroll through my New Items folder. Sometimes I would stop and slow down, since a couple dozen warrant close reading of each and every post. Others I skim quickly. Some things I need to read now, others I could read in a week and still be OK. So I reorganized my feeds into four folders:


"Mass" is for high volume feeds that I must skim to keep up. I will only read Medium and Low feeds once every two days. High Priority I will read several times a day.

In a Series of Vendor Presentations, Which Time Slot Would You Want?

At Comcate we were recently strategizing about an upcoming one hour sales pitch/presentation. The prospect invited a series of vendors and emailed all the possible time slots. First come first serve. The choices: First thing in the morning, right before lunch, right after lunch, mid-afternoon, and end of the day.

Which slot should we have chosen?

Right after lunch always sucks, since the audience is sleeply. The end of the day people may be tired and blur everything together (but you do benefit from the recency effect). First thing in the morning people can be sharp and ready, but will they remember anything after all the other presentations?

Anyone have any tips on the psychology of order from the sales trenches?