The Andy Warhol New York City Diet

diet

In The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), Warhol documents his New York City Diet.

Weight isn’t important the way the magazines make you think it is. I know a girl who just looks at her face in the medicine cabinet mirror and never looks below her shoulders, and she’s four or five hundred pounds but she doesn’t see all that, she just sees a beautiful face and therefore she thinks she’s a beauty. And therefore I think she’s a beauty, too, because I usually accept people on the basis of their self-images, because their self-images have more to do with the way they think than their objective-images do. Maybe she’s six hundred pounds, who knows. If she doesn’t care, I don’t.

But if you do watch your weight, try the Andy Warhol New York City Diet: when I order in a restaurant, I order everything that I don’t want, so I have a lot to play around with while everyone else eats. Then, no matter how chic the restaurant is, I insist that the waiter wrap the entire plate up like a to-go order, and after we leave the restaurant I find a little corner outside in the street to leave the plate in, because there are so many people in New York who live in the streets, with everything they own in shopping bags.

So I lose weight and stay trim, and I think that maybe one of those people will find a Grenouille dinner on the window ledge. But then, you never know, maybe they wouldn’t like what I ordered as much as I didn’t like it, and maybe they’d turn up their noses and look through the garbage for some half-eaten rye bread. You just never know with people. You just never know what they’ll like, what you should do for them.

Five Techniques to Improve Your Luck

Luck

It isn’t enough to be good. You need luck.

We tend to think that smart people make good decisions and stupid people make bad decisions and that luck plays very little role. That is until we’re one of those smart people who has a bad outcome because of luck.

You can’t ignore luck and you really can’t plan for it. Yet much of life is the combination, to varying degrees, of skill and luck. This continuum is also what makes watching sports fun. The most talented team doesn’t always win, luck plays a role.

However elusive, luck is something that we can cultivate. While we can’t control it, we can improve it. In How to Get Lucky: 13 techniques for discovering and taking advantage of life’s good breaks, Max Gunther shows us how.

It turns out that lucky people characteristically organize their lives in such a way that they are in position to experience good luck and to avoid bad luck.

Technique 1: Acknowledge The Role of Luck

When losers lose, they blame luck. When winners win, it’s because they were smart.

Via How to Get Lucky:

If you want to be a winner, you must stay keenly aware of the role luck plays in your life. When a desired outcome is brought about by luck, you must acknowledge that fact. Don’t try to tell yourself the outcome came about because you were smart. Never confuse luck with planning. If you do that, you all but guarantee that your luck, in the long run, will be bad.

When you see that luck plays a role, you’re more likely to be aware that the situation can change. You don’t expect things to continue, no that’s for the people who don’t acknowledge the role of luck because they mix up planning and luck.

Via How to Get Lucky:

The process begins when a good result occurs once or a few times. The loser studies it, ascribes it to planning, and concludes that the same planning will produce the same result in the future. And the loser loses again.

The lucky personality avoids getting trapped in that way. This isn’t to say he or she avoids taking risks. Quite the contrary, as we will see later. What it does mean is that the lucky personality, entering a situation and perceiving it to be ruled or heavily influenced by luck, deliberately stays light-footed, ready to jump this way or that as events unfold.

[…]

Planning may be more important than luck in much of what you do. The trick is to know what kind of situation you are in at any given time. Can you rely on your own or others’ planning, or will the outcome be determined by luck?

Technique 2: Find the Fast Flow

The idea here is to be where things are happening and surround yourself with a lot of people and interactions. The theory being that if you’re a hermit, nothing will ever happen.

Via How to Get Lucky:

The lucky personality gets to know everybody in sight: the rich and the poor, the famous, the humble, the sociable and even the friendless and the cranky.

When you meet these people, use these tips to quickly build rapport.

You never want to become isolated. Make contact with people and get involved. Never sit on the sidelines.

Via How to Get Lucky:

Eric Wachtel, a New York management consultant and executive recruiter, has watched literally hundreds of men and women climbing career ladders. In his observation, people who get dead-ended are very often people who allow themselves to become isolated.

… The worst thing you can do is withdraw from the network of friendships and acquaintanceships at home and at work. If you aren’t in the network, nobody is ever going to steer anything your way.”

People make things happen. Not necessarily friends, just contacts. But for this to happen people need to know what you’re trying to do – or where you want to go. Few things make us happier than helping others with lucky breaks.

In the words of Eric Wachtel, the consultant recruiter mentioned above: “It really is very pleasant to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, Charlie, there’s a job opening that sounds as if it might be your kind of thing.’”

Via How to Get Lucky:

Consistently lucky people are nearly always to be found in the fast flow. I never met one who was a recluse or even reclusive.

Technique 3: Risk Spooning

You have to invite things to happen. This means you have to stick your neck out.

Via How to Get Lucky:

There are two ways to be an almost sure loser in life. One is to take goofy risks; that is, risks that are out of proportion to the rewards being sought. And the other is to take no risks at all. Lucky people characteristically avoid both extremes. They cultivate the technique of taking risks in carefully measured spoonfuls.

Here is what generally happens in life. Some person sticks their neck out and the speculation pays off. They become rich and famous. Newspapers interview the person, asking them “how can we do the same thing you did?” And the newfound sage replies not that he got lucky, no, but rather that he was smart and hard working and those sorts of things. And we eat this stuff up.

In part this is because culturally we hate the gambler. Largely because we don’t like that we can’t take risks ourselves. The gambler represents what we are not. It’s this motivated reasoning that makes it easy to find ways to dislike him.

Via How to Get Lucky:

It is essential to take risks. Examine the life of any lucky man or woman, and you are all but certain to find that he or she was willing, at some point, to take a risk. Without that willingness, hardly anything interesting is likely to happen to you.

[…]

[T]he need to take risks extends into all areas of life. Falling in love, for instance. If you want to experience the joys of such a relationship, you must be willing to take the possible hurts, too. You must be willing to make an emotional commitment that has the capacity to wound you. But it is exactly like playing a lottery: If you don’t bet, you are not in position to win.

Risk — smart risk — is a key element to getting lucky. Going to the track and betting on the 99-1 payoff is just stupid.

Technique 4: Run Cutting

“Don’t push your luck.” My parents used to repeat that ancient maxim after I scored a 30-minute curfew extension and rather than be happy with that, I tried to push it longer.

Via How to Get Lucky:

As nearly all lucky people realize instinctively or learn through experience, runs of luck always end sooner than you wish. Sometimes they are long runs; much more often they are short. Since you can never tell in advance when a given run is going to end, the only sensible thing to do is preserve your gains by jumping off early in the game. Always assume the run is going to be short. Never try to ride a run to its very peak. Don’t push your luck.

The key here is to always assume that you’re in the average case.

Via How to Get Lucky:

The simplest way to illustrate this is to calculate the mathematics of probability in tossing a coin. If you toss it 1,024 times, the odds are there will be one long run in which heads comes up nine times in a row. But there will be thirty-two short runs in which heads comes up four times in a row. Which is the way to bet?

On the short runs, of course.

[…]

Always cut runs short. Sure, there will be times when you regret doing this. A run will continue without you, and you will be left enviously watching all the happy players who stayed aboard. But statistically, such gloomy outcomes are not likely to happen often.

One of the problems is that long runs of luck are available.

Via How to Get Lucky:

One problem is that long, high runs of luck make news and get talked about. If you go to a racetrack and have a so-so day, you will forget it quickly. But if you have one of those days when every horse runs for your benefit, you will undoubtedly bore your friends with the story for a long time. We hear more about big wins than about the vastly more common little wins. This can delude us into thinking the big wins are more attainable than they really are. We think: “Well, if all these stories are true, maybe there’s a big win waiting out there for me.”

Casinos publicize big wins that are usually the result of long runs of luck. They do this for two reasons. First, it’s a good story and we think that we can win more than we actually can. Second, it encourages people who are winning, to keep those bets riding so they can be one of the big winners. Of course, the odds are with the casino so the longer you play the more likely luck goes to odds. And the odds favor the house.

We never know how long luck will last but we do know that short runs of luck are much more common than long runs of luck.

Technique 5: Luck Selection

At what point should you “cut your losses?”

Via How to Get Lucky:

As you enter any new venture – an investment, a job, a love affair – you cannot know how it will work out. No matter how carefully you lay your plans, you cannot know how those plans will be affected by the unforeseeable and uncontrollable events that we call luck. If the luck is good, then you stay with the venture and enjoy it. But what if the luck is bad? What if the bottom drops out of the stock market? Or the seemingly limitless promise of that new job vanishes in a corporate upheaval? Or your love affair sours when a rival suddenly appears?

The lucky reaction is to wait a short time and see if the problems can be fixed or will go away, and then, if the answer is no, bail out. Cut losses short. This is what lucky people habitually do. To put it another way, they have the ability to select their own luck. Hit with bad luck, they discard it, freeing themselves to seek better luck in another venture.

The inability to cut losses is one of the traits of the born loser according to psychiatrists Stanley Block and Samuel Correnti in their book Psyche, Sex, and Stocks.

Sunk costs are hard to overcome, in part because it often involves confessing that you were wrong.

Via How to Get Lucky:

It is hard because it requires a kind of pessimism, or unsentimental realism, that doesn’t come naturally to many. What makes it still harder is that there are times when, in retrospect, you wish you hadn’t applied it.

How to Get Lucky: 13 techniques for discovering and taking advantage of life’s good breaks goes on to explore 7 other techniques to cultivate your luck.

A Few Lessons

shane

Looking back on my first years out of school and the countless mistakes I made, I can’t help but feel that any success I’ve enjoyed is more through dumb luck than any particular brilliance on my part.

Through Farnam Street, I detail my journey of self-discovery and learning. Basically, I explore two things in parallel:

First is the enduring search for how we should live and what it means to live a good life. And second, more practically, I explore things we can learn and connect that better equip us to solve problems by thinking.

While unqualified, I’m often asked to give advice to young people who are just beginning their own journey of self-discovery. With that disclaimer, let me share a few things that I’ve learned in the hopes that these help you navigate your journey.

1. Learn to say “I don’t know.”
Being caught without an opinion on something can be the kiss of death for the modern knowledge worker. This fosters an environment where we borrow our opinions from others without doing the necessary thinking.

And to make matters worse, once blurted out, we feel the need to defend these borrowed opinions because we don’t want to appear inconsistent. So we end up defending a superficial opinion based on the thoughts of others all because we couldn’t say three simple words: “I don’t know.”

2. Learn the difficult skill of changing your mind.
When was the last time you changed your mind on something? If you’re honest, it was probably a long time ago. We tend to accumulate knowledge and assume, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, that we are right.

The point here is to re-examine your conclusions and attitudes. When someone has a better one, adopt it. Seek evidence that contradicts what you think and try to explain it.

3. Your reputation for helping others is the most important thing.
Harry Truman had a saying that resonates a lot with me: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

The thirst for credit fuels our ego. When culturally reinforced, this leads to predictably disastrous outcomes. Ego often prevents us from being as generous as we would like. It causes us to show how smart we are by making others look bad rather than making them look good.

Ego causes us to withhold information. And so on. When your ego gets too big, people won’t want to work with you. Help others achieve their goals and you’ll be amazed at the places you’ll go.

4. Knowing what to avoid is often more valuable than knowing what you think you want.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is invert the problem. It’s often as helpful to know what you want to avoid as what you want. Things that ruin lives tend to be predictable over time.

Avoid debt or leverage as well as over-consumption of drugs and alcohol. But there are some less obvious things to avoid.

For instance, when you start out in the workforce you’re looking for a cool place to work, but the person you work for is important, too.

Generally you want to work with people who have three traits: intelligence, energy and integrity. Avoid at all costs the seductive allure of smart people that lack integrity.

5. Mistakes.
Just because we’ve lost our way doesn’t mean that we are lost forever. In the end, it’s not the failures that define us so much as how we respond. Learn to recognize mistakes and correct them. (see #2.)

6. Goal-orientated people mostly fail.
Goal-oriented people mostly fail. What you really want is a system that increases your odds of success. Even if that system only improves the odds a little it adds up over a long life.

7. Friendships.
Friendship is more than just being there for your friends. Being a great friend means that you let your friends be there for you.

Mental Models: The Mind’s Search Algorithm

Mental models are tools for the mind.

In his talk: Academic Economics: Strengths and Weaknesses, after Considering Interdisciplinary Needs, at the University of California at Santa Barbara, in 2003, Charlie Munger honed in on why we like to specialize.

The big general objection to economics was the one early described by Alfred North Whitehead when he spoke of the fatal unconnectedness of academic disciplines, wherein each professor didn’t even know of the models of the other disciplines, much less try to synthesize those disciplines with his own … The nature of this failure is that it creates what I always call ‘man with a hammer’ syndrome. To a man with only a hammer, every problem looks pretty much like a nail. And that works marvellously to gum up all professions, and all departments of academia, and indeed most practical life. So, what do we do, Charlie? The only antidote for being an absolute klutz due to the presence of a man with a hammer syndrome is to have a full kit of tools. You don’t have just a hammer. You’ve got all the tools.

The more models you have from outside your discipline and the more you iterate through them when faced with a challenge in a checklist sort of fashion, the better you’ll be able to solve problems.

Models are additive. Like LEGO. The more you have the more things you can build, the more connections you can make between them and the more likely you are to be able to determine the relevant variables that govern the situation.

And when you learn these models you need to ask yourself under what conditions will this tool fail? That way you’re not only looking for situations where the tool is useful but also situations where something interesting is happening that might warrant further attention.

The Mind’s Search Engine

In Diaminds: Decoding the Mental Habits of Successful Thinkers, Roger Martin looks at our mental search engine.

Now for the final step in the design of the mentally choiceful stance: the search engine, as in ‘How did I solve these problems?’ ‘Obviously,’ you will answer yourself, ‘I was using a simple search engine in my mind to go through checklist style, and I was using some rough algorithms that work pretty well in many complex systems.’ What does a search engine do? It searches. And how do you organize an efficient search? Well, algorithm designers tell us you have to have an efficient organization of the contents of whatever it is you are searching. And a tree structure allows you to search more efficiently than most alternative structures.

How a tree structure helps simplify search: A detection algorithm for ‘Fox.’
How a tree structure helps simplify search: A detection algorithm for ‘Fox.’

So what’s Munger’s search algorithm?

(from an interview with Munger via Diaminds: Decoding the Mental Habits of Successful Thinkers:)

Extreme success is likely to be caused by some combination of the following factors: a) Extreme maximization or minimization of one or two variables. Example[:] Costco, or, [Berkshire Hathaway’s] furniture and appliance store. b) Adding success factors so that a bigger combination drives success, often in nonlinear fashion, as one is reminded of the concept of breakpoint or the concept of critical mass in physics. You get more mass, and you get a lollapalooza result. And of course I’ve been searching for lollapalooza results all my life, so I’m very interested in models that explain their occurrence. [Remember the Black Swan?] c) an extreme of good performance over many factors. Examples: Toyota or Les Schwab. d) Catching and riding some big wave.

Charlie Munger’s lollapalooza detection algorithm, represented as a tree search.
Charlie Munger’s lollapalooza detection algorithm, represented as a tree search.

(via Diaminds: Decoding the Mental Habits of Successful Thinkers)

A good search algorithm allows you to make your mental choices clear. It makes it easier for you to be mentally choiceful and to understand the reasons why you’re making these mental choices.

Now, what should go on the branches of your tree of mental models? Well, how about basic mental models from a whole bunch of different disciplines? Such as: physics (non-linearity, criticality), economics (what Munger calls the ‘super-power’ of incentives), the multiplicative effects of several interacting causes (biophysics), and collective phenomena – or ‘catching the wave’ (plasma physics). How’s that for a science that rocks, by placing at the disposal of the mind a large library of forms created by thinkers across hundreds of years and marshalling them for the purpose of detecting, building, and profiting from Black Swans?

The ‘tree trick’ has one more advantage – a big one: it lets you quickly visualize interactions among the various models and identify cumulative effects. Go northwest in your search, starting from the ’0’ node, and the interactions double with every step. Go southwest, on the other hand, and the interactions decrease in number at the same rate. Seen in this rather sketchy way, Black Swan hunting is no longer as daunting a sport as it might seem at first sight.

Bruce Lee: The Four Basic Philosophical Approaches

Wan_Kam_Leung_and_Bruce_Lee

As found in Bruce Lee: Artist of Life, which provides unique insight into the mind of Bruce Lee through his private letters and writing.

1. Aboutism keeps out any emotional responses or other genuine involvement — as though we were things. In therapy, Aboutism is found in rationalization and intellectualization, and in the “interpretation” games where the therapist says “This is what your difficulties are about.” This approach is based on noninvolvement.

2. With Shouldism you grow up completely surrounded by what you should and should not do, and you spend much of your time playing this game with yourself—the game I call the “top dog/underdog game” or the “self improvement game” or the “self-torture game.” Shouldism is based on the phenomenon of dissatisfaction.

3. The Existential (“is-ism”) approach is the external attempt to achieve truth, but what is truth? Truth is one of what I call the “fitting games.”

4. Gestalt attempts to understand the existence of any event through the way it comes about, which tries to understand becoming by the how, not the why, through the all-pervasive gestalt formation; through the unfinished situation, which is a biological factor. In other words, in Gestalt therapy we try to be consistent with every other event, especially with Nature, because we are part of nature.

6 Books Bill Gates Recommended for TED 2015

Bill Gates

Bill Gates, long an avid reader, attended the TED conference again this year and continued his tradition of recommending books to fellow attendees.

1. Business Adventures, by John Brooks

Warren Buffett recommended this book to me back in 1991, and it’s still the best business book I’ve ever read. Even though Brooks wrote more than four decades ago, he offers sharp insights into timeless fundamentals of business, like the challenge of building a large organization, hiring people with the right skills, and listening to customers’ feedback. (Here’s a free download of one of my favorite chapters, “Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox.”)

2. The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin studies the lives of America’s 26th and 27th presidents to examine a question that fascinates me: How does social change happen? Can it be driven solely by an inspirational leader, or do other factors have to lay the groundwork first? In Roosevelt’s case, it was the latter. Roosevelt’s famous soft speaking and big stick were not effective in driving progressive reforms until journalists at McClure’s and other publications rallied public support.

3. On Immunity, by Eula Biss

The eloquent essayist Eula Biss uses the tools of literary analysis, philosophy, and science to examine the speedy, inaccurate rumors about childhood vaccines that have proliferated among well-meaning American parents. Biss took up this topic not for academic reasons but because of her new role as a mom. This beautifully written book would be a great gift for any new parent.

4. Making the Modern World, by Vaclav Smil

The historian Vaclav Smil is probably my favorite living author, and I read everything he writes. In this book, Smil examines the materials we use to meet the demands of modern life, like cement, iron, aluminum, plastic, and paper. The book is full of staggering statistics. For example, China used more cement in just three years than the U.S. used in the entire 20th century! Above all, I love to read Smil because he resists hype. He’s an original thinker who never gives simple answers to complex questions.

5. How Asia Works, by Joe Studwell

Business journalist Joe Studwell produces compelling answers to two of the greatest questions in development economics: How did countries like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and China achieve sustained, high growth? And why have so few other countries managed to do so? His conclusion: All the countries that become development success stories (1) create conditions for small farmers to thrive, (2) use the proceeds from agricultural surpluses to build a manufacturing base that is tooled from the start to produce exports, and (3) nurture both these sectors with financial institutions closely controlled by the government.

6. How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrell Huff

I picked this one up after seeing it on a Wall Street Journal list of good books for investors. It was first published in 1954, but it doesn’t feel dated (aside from a few anachronistic examples—it has been a long time since bread cost 5 cents a loaf in the United States). In fact, I’d say it’s more relevant than ever. One chapter shows you how visuals can be used to exaggerate trends and give distorted comparisons. It’s a timely reminder, given how often infographics show up in your Facebook and Twitter feeds these days. A great introduction to the use of statistics, and a great refresher for anyone who’s already well versed in it.

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