Peter Kaufman on the Multidisciplinary Approach to Thinking - “To understand is to know what to do.” That is what the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said and is how Peter Kaufman started his 2018 speech given to the Cal Poly Pomana Economics Club about multidisciplinary thinking. I’ve been studying a lot about multidisciplinary thinking and trying to expand my mental models since I believe that understanding the big ideas in life and being able to apply them across various subjects is very beneficial to becoming a better decision maker and living a better life.
This transcript, transcribed by Richard Lewis of Latticeworkinvesting.com, is one of the great speeches I’ve ever read. I kid you not. It’s very informative and it increased what I know about multidisciplinary thinking even when I’ve been reading about it since I graduated college back in 2011. Peter Kaufman believes that one can be very good at business but still fail in life because of the inability to understand the big and important ideas in life. But increasing one’s understanding of those ideas and being able to apply them across various subjects will help understand more so we know exactly what to do and in turn decrease the mistakes we make.
Here are some of the ideas I really enjoyed from the speech:
"So why is it important to be a multidisciplinary thinker? The answer comes from the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who said, ‘To understand is to know what to do.’ Could there be anything that sounds simpler than that? And yet it’s a genius line, to understand is to know what to do. How many mistakes do you make when you understand something? You don’t make any mistakes. Where do mistakes come from? They come from blind spots, a lack of understanding."
"All you have to do, if you want everything in life from everybody else, is first pay attention, listen to them, show them respect, give them meaning, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Convey to them that they matter to you. And show [them] you love them. But you have to go first. And what are you going to get back. Mirrored reciprocation. Right? See how we tie this all together? The world is so damn simple. It’s not complicated at all! Every single person on this planet is looking for the same thing. Now why is it that we don’t act on these very simple things?"
“For answering the question, why would people not go positive and not go first when there’s a 98 percent chance you’re going to benefit from it, and only a 2 percent chance the person’s going to tell you to ‘screw off’ and you’re going to feel horrible, lose face, and all the rest of that. And that’s real. That’s why we don’t do it. He said there’s huge asymmetry between the standard human desire for gain and the standard human desire to avoid loss.”
How This All Happened - The American economy has changed a lot since the 1950s. That is obvious but what may not be so obvious is that although it has changed a lot, there were events that occurred in previous periods that led to what happened in the next period.
In other words, what happened in the 1950s is what caused certain events to happen in the 1960s and what happened in the 1960s caused certain events to happen in the 1970s and so on. And as the author of the popular blog The Collaborative Fund and the author of this article, Morgan Housel, puts it, “My goal isn’t to describe every play; it’s to look at how one game influenced the next.”
This blog post really was a very interesting read on how one generation of Americans went from being savers due to fond memories of the Great Depression to spenders due to a thriving economy coming out of World War 2 and more lenient credit regulation all the way to debtors due to an overheated economy with even more lenient credit regulation and lower interest rates which eventually led to the housing bust in 2008.
What is also interesting from this post is the discussion on how income went from being very evenly distributed in the 1950s-1970s to very unevenly distributed throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s and how the disparity in income distribution didn’t change how Americans spent their money very much. The old story on keeping up with the Jones’ still held up.
“But a central theme of this story is that expectations move slower than reality on the ground.”
Top 10 U.S. Government Investments in the 20th Century American Competitiveness -Innovation is what drives our world forward. It increases production, it allows us to use resources more efficiently, and it makes our lives easier and less complicated.
There has been a lot of innovation throughout the 20th century and I bet you won't recognize some of the great ideas that the government funded to give us some big returns. I certainly didn't recognize some.
The greatest innovations of the 1900's according to the Center for American Progress were:
1 Ellis Island
2 Panama Canal
3 Hoover Dam
4 GI Bill
5 Marshal Plan
6 Interstate Highway
8 Apollo Space Program
9 Elementary and Secondary Education
10 Human Genome Project
What I learned About Life at My 30th College Reunion - I really liked this one. The author recently went to her 30 year reunion from when she graduated Harvard in 1988. After seeing and catching up with so many of her classmates from her class, she shares "30 simple truths she discovered from her reunion."
I had only my 10 year reunion from high school last year and reading this makes me ask myself, "where does all that time go?" It flies by so fast and we only realize it after its gone. Reading this right now has helped me appreciate youth more. It has also got me thinking slightly more about decision making over my next 23 years, which is the amount of time I will need to live before reaching my own 30 year college reunion.
Here are just 3 of 30 truths Deborah shares that I enjoyed:
#1 No one’s life turned out exactly as anticipated, not even for the most ardent planner.
#15 No matter what my classmates grew up to be… at the end of the day, most of our conversations at the various parties and panel discussions throughout the weekend centered on a desire for love, comfort, intellectual stimulation, decent leaders, a sustainable environment, friendship, and stability.
#17 Drinks at a bar you used to go to with your freshman roommate are more fun 30 years later with that same freshman roommate.
A Template for Understanding Big Debt Crises - I've written about Ray Dalio before and I've recommended other pieces of writing by him and I am doing it again for my September best read of the month. Ray has been one of the most successful hedge fund managers by building the largest hedge fund in the world. He wrote the best-selling book Principles and he just released this new book on understanding how big debt crises occur and what steps governments can take to alleviate them. And the best part about it is that it's free.
Ray has spent an enormous amount of time studying previous debt crises in history and has noticed patterns which have a habit of repeating themselves. That is part of what Ray discusses in this book. The patterns that he sees from studying the past and how governments react. There are two types of big debt crises: deflationary and inflationary. He delves deeply in to the different stages and what governments usually do to prevent their country's crises from getting worse. He also discusses in detail some of the previous debt crises in history such as The Great Depression and the 08 US Housing Crisis. I've starting reading it and it is a challenging book but I highly recommend it.
And even if you don't plan on reading it now, remember what I said earlier. It's free! Just click the link above, enter your email, go to your email inbox and download it.
The Untold Story of Notpetya, The Most Devastating Cyber Attack in History - Andy Greenberg from Wired recently wrote a very detailed and interesting article about a piece of malware that is estimated to have caused over $10 billion in damages. The malware is assumed to have been created by a group of Russian hackers and sent to infiltrate the IT systems of a software company in Ukraine. The malware then spread to the IT systems of numerous multinational companies such as Merck, Mondelez, Maersk, and TNT Express. The story is a fascinating behind-the-scenes read of how a shipping company saw their computers abruptly stop working and the measures they took to restore their entire network. The world is much more connected today than it has ever been before and that has made certain areas of it very fragile.
The malware originated in Ukraine but spread to places as far away as the UK and a shipping terminal in New Jersey. It even shut down a credit card payment system at a gas station which resulted in the driver not being able to get gas since he didn’t have any cash. There were lots of hours and days spent trying to fix all of the issues that the malware caused. It is being referred to as the most devastating cyber-attack in history and unfortunately with all of the reliance and significance we place on IT systems to run our daily lives, it most likely won’t be the last.
The Race of Our Lives Revisited - I posted one of Jeremy Grantham’s quarterly investment letters back in January 2018 so this isn’t his first appearance on my Best Reads of the Month list. He is a very deep thinker on the markets but also on the environment and humanity. I’ve been paying a lot of attention to what he has been writing about lately on the damage that we have been doing to our planet.
Global warming has become a much bigger concern over the past 10 years and Jeremy is one of the biggest supporters of doing something about it not later but right now as opposed to the “kicking the can further down the road” mentality that has prevailed for so long on this issue.
As you can tell from the title of his paper, “The Race of Our Lives Revisited”, he is deeply concerned about how we will maintain ourselves in the future because of the evidence that our ability to grow food is in jeopardy due to the destruction of the soil and other consequences of global warming.
In this thoughtful 35-page white paper, Jeremy backs his claims with facts and evidence by providing measurements, photos, and graphs. He also discusses the roles that solar, wind, and battery storage will have to play to help us fight the consequences of our addiction to fossil fuels.
Why The Best Things in Life Are All Backwards - This post from Mark Manson comes directly from his blog and it discusses an interesting idea called the backwards law which Mark wrote about in his best-selling book The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, and which I recently wrote about in my last blog post.
The backwards law is about realizing that the more you chase after something, the more you end up getting the opposite result or feeling worse off than before. This is somewhat counter intuitive to what we’ve been told throughout our lives. Most of our lives we have been told that the harder we work and the more effort we put in, the better off we will be. But Mark discusses how this is true for menial tasks but not for actions that are psychological such as our mental health and our relationships.
“The backwards law’ [is] the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place. The more you desperately want to be rich, the more poor and unworthy you feel, regardless of how much money you actually make. The more you desperately want to be sexy and desired, the uglier you come to see yourself, regardless of your actual physical appearance. The more you desperately want to be happy and loved, the lonelier and more afraid you become, regardless of those who surround you. The more you want to be spiritually enlightened, the more self-centered and shallow you become in trying to get there.” Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
Compilation of Content from Michael Burry - Michael Burry was a medical doctor turned hedge fund manager in the early 2000’s. He ran the fund Scion Capital where he shorted the real estate bubble by using credit default swaps. The fabulous business author who wrote Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, Michael Lewis, wrote about Mr. Burry’s success in his best-selling book The Big Short which was eventually turned into a movie where Michael Burry was played by Christian Bale.
This pdf contains a compilation of content from Michael which includes some of his letters written to his investors when he was running his fund. It delves into what he was thinking before the real estate crash, how he saw it collapsing, and how he profited from it. It also discusses Michael’s investment strategy.
It’s a long pdf and can’t be read in one sitting, but well worth the investment for any serious investor willing to understand what was going through the mind of one of the best investors so far of the 21st century.
While almost everyone was ignoring the froth in the real estate bubble, Michael was not only warning of the troubles, but he found a way to short it which wasn’t easy because of the way the market was set up. It took an enormous amount of research, intelligence, contrarianism, and courage.
This is What Love Does to Your Brain - I came across this article by Sean Illing about love and the brain from Eric Barker’s Barking Up The Wrong Tree weekly email. It was so interesting that I decided to make it my second addition to my Best Reads of the Month for June. The article is from Vox and is called This is What Love Does to Your Brain.
Sean interviews Helen Fisher who is a biological anthropologist, author of six different books, and chief scientific adviser to Match.com. Helen answers several thoughtful questions on how our brains react to different circumstances of love. The questions relate to casual sex, differences in gender sexuality, brain scans of humans falling in love, what makes a happy marriage or relationship, suicide after breakups and others.
Here are some interesting parts below:
“You can think of love as an intense obsession, but it’s really an addiction. You think about [your partner] all the time; you become sexually possessive; you get butterflies in the stomach; you can read their emails and texts over and over again.
But I say it’s an addiction because we found that, in addition to the dopamine system being activated in the brains of people in love, we also found activity in another part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens.
This part of the brain is activated in all forms of behavioral addiction — whether it’s drugs or gambling or food or kleptomania. So this part of the brain fires up in people who have recently fallen in love, and it really does function like an addiction.”
“Sean Illing: What do we, as a culture, get wrong about male and female sexuality?
Helen Fisher: A lot. We think men want to have sex with everything that walks, but that’s not true. They’re much more picky than people think.
I think we also got it wrong that women are not interested in sex. Among people under the age of 40, women are apparently just as adulterous as men. Women in college have more sex than men in college do, largely because women have the pick of the place when they’re in college, and men don’t.
But the idea that men need or desire sex more than women is a fantasy.
I’ve been telling women’s magazines for 30 years that men fall in love faster than women do because they’re so visual, and they fall in love more often. Men like public displays of affection more regularly, which sounds romantic but isn’t.”
Curiosity and What Equality Really Means - Atul Gawande is a surgeon, public health researcher, and best-selling author. He has made numerous contributions to the field based on his extensive research and generosity to share his wisdom. He wrote about the importance of creating checklists in order to minimize errors in medicine and other aspects of life. Behind this link is a commencement speech that Atul delivered to the UCLA Medical school on Friday June 1st. Atul discusses the importance of curiosity and how it is vital to being empathetic and treating others as equals.
Here are a couple of quotes that I highlighted from his speech:
"Regarding people as having lives of equal worth means recognizing each as having a common core of humanity. Without being open to their humanity, it is impossible to provide good care to people - to insure, for instance, that you've given them enough anesthetic before doing a procedure. To see their humanity, you must put yourself in their shoes. That requires a willingness to ask people what it's like in those shoes. It requires curiosity about others and the world beyond your boarding zone."
"Once we lose the desire to understand - to be surprised, to listen and bear witness - we lose humanity. Among the most important capacities that you take with you today is your curiosity. You must guard it, for curiosity is the beginning of empathy. When others say that some is evil or crazy, or even a hero or an angel, they are usually trying to shut off curiosity. Don't let them. We are all capable of heroic and of evil things. No one and nothing that you encounter in your life and career will be simply heroic or evil. Virtue is a capacity. It can always be lost or gained. That potential is why all of our lives are of equal worth."
Dollar Street - This website was recommended by Bill Gates and is a very interesting tour of how families living in different parts of the world live. The owners of this website visited 264 families in 50 countries and collected 30,000 photos. They show the monthly income for various families and various pictures that depict their living standards. Some common pictures shown are their toilet, bed(s), roof, hands, exterior view of home, electronic devices, and streets/pathways.
Lessons You Won't Learn In School - This article comes from the June 2018 issue of Psychology Today. It offers 10 pieces of wisdom on how to improve your perception of the world to help you live more successfully and feel better about yourself. Here is a small part of the article that I found very informative:
"Every Buddhist knows - and mindfulness techniques actualize the knowledge - that emotions are not an accurate reflection of reality (in fact, there's no such thing). Feelings are no more than passing ephemera - and so are flops and fiascos. Resilient people do not define themselves by their adversity. They understand that bad times are temporary affairs."
One Decision Separates The Wealthy From The Non-Wealthy - Benjamin Hardy discusses two different economies in this article. The "Time-Effort-Economy" and the "Results Economy." Most people are in the "Time-Effort-Economy" where they are working for a salary or an hourly wage and are focused on getting a task done and staying busy. Few people are in the "Results Economy" and there is a reason for this. The "Results Economy" has a lot more risk to it because you aren't guaranteed an income. You are only paid if you deliver results. No surprise that this is the economy that entrepreneurs are a part of, and according to Dr. Thomas Stanley, the people that are in the "Results Economy" are the ones that are more courageous and wealthy.
My 10-Year Odyssey Through America's Housing Crisis - When the Wall Street Journal wanted to run an article that looked at the housing market 10 years later they turned to Ryan Dezember who lived it. He got married and bought a charming cottage on coastal Alabama only to watch the price he paid fall below the amount of the mortgage he borrowed from the bank a couple of years later. What follows is the journey this Wall Street Journal writer went through during the greatest crisis since the Great Depression.
Ideas That Changed My Life - Vilfredo Pareto was an economist who discovered the 80/20 principle which simply states that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. The Pareto principle, or the 80/20 rule, is seen all over the place although the result may not always be 80% and 20%. Sometimes it is 90/10 or 70/30 but the overall idea is that a large amount of the outcomes come from a small amount of the inputs. And what Morgan Housel does in this interesting piece is discuss how although there were many ideas he came across over the past years, there were very few that were so big that they really changed how he thought and viewed the world.
The big ideas that changed how he thought and viewed the world were:
1. Everyone belongs to a tribe and underestimates how influential that tribe is on their thinking.
2. Everything's been done before. The scenes change but the behaviors and outcomes don't.
3. Multi-discipline learning.
4. Self-interest can lead people to believe and justify nearly anything.
5. Room for error is underappreciated and misunderstood.
6. Sustainable sources of competitive advantages.
7. Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what's happened in the world but maybe 80% of how you think the world works.
Bill and Melinda Gates' 10th Annual Letter - I'm always a fan of reading Bill and Melinda Gates' annual letters to see their take on the progress that our world is making. We see so much news that is pessimistic because that is what the media likes to publish since it grabs out attention and sells, but despite this negative view there is a lot of optimism out there as well. One positive statistic that Bill and Melinda mention in this year's letter is that the number of children that died in 2000 has been cut in half compared to last year. In 2000, 10 million children died compared to 5 million last year and this large decrease is the result of giving poorer countries access to better immunization. There are a lot of other interesting stats and views in this letter as well. This year they focus on answering the 10 toughest questions that both of them get.
Bracing Yourself For a Possible Near Term Melt Up - Jeremy Grantham is GMO's chief investment strategist and is one of my favorite investor's opinions to read. I've been reading his viewpoints for the past 5 years and they are always interesting. This report uses data going back to the early 1900's as well as Jeremy's experiences living through previous bubbles to discuss whether or not a bubble is starting to form in the markets today (January 2018).
A First Hand Account of What Actually Happened The Night When Van Gogh Cut His Ear Off - I found this really interesting. It's the story of what actually happened when Van Gogh cut his ear off and it's told by his friend and mentor Paul Gauguin. It makes me wonder what causes so many of the great genuises to become so crazy.
How Long Have I Got Left - Paul Kalanithi was completing his residency training in neurological surgery at Stanford. He was studying for the past 10 years and was treating patients whom were diagnosed with cancer. He was a doctor. Then one day he wasn't. He was diagnosed with cancer and went from being a doctor to a patient. In this NY Times editorial, Paul discusses what was going through his mind very soon after he first found out that he had cancer.
Tim Ferriss's Interview With Ray Dalio - Tim Ferriss interviews Ray Dalio about his new book Principles and his journey in managing the largest hedge fund in the world today with $160 billion in assets under management.
10 Things I Would Do If I Were 21 - An excerpt from Frank Crane's book The Business of Living where Frank gives readers advice on what to do if he were 21. The advice is very valuable and provides great long term benefits. It has to do with improving your mind and health.
Howard Marks's Memo, "There They Go Again" - Howard Marks writes his latest memo on where he believes we stand in the stages of the market cycle. He also gives input on some of the major asset classes such as bonds, real estate, stocks, and exchange traded funds.
To Stay Married, Embrace Change - This article gives some good advice on marriage. This paragraph gives a really good idea of what the article is about: “Several long-married people I know have said this exact line: ‘I’ve had at least three marriages. They’ve just all been with the same person.’ I’d say Neal and I have had at least three mariages: Our partying 20s, child-centric 30s and home-owning 40s."