Some Videos I’m Showing in Class

In class last night we examined how to make better decisions. The lecture focused heavily on cognitive biases and heuristicsac10ec1ace51b2d973cd87973a98d3ab.jpg.1347400360781 that affect our decision-making.

The anchoring heuristic, explained by Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow:

An explanation of the availability heuristic:

Kahneman’s explanation of the focusing illusion to New York Times columnist David Brooks:

A discussion of the sunk costs fallacy:

We also discussed analysis paralysis and The Paradox of Choice, a book written by Barry Schwartz. Here is his TED Talk that synthesizes the book well:

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The Wolf of Wall Street & Assorted Links

Erin and I saw The Wolf of Wall Street yesterday afternoon. It was a gross display of excess. Three new-wolf-of-wall-street-trailer-leonardo-dicaprio-is-the-wealthiest-stockbroker-in-the-worldstraight hours of profanity, sex, greed, drugs. There are those who say that the film doesn’t go far enough to villainize the Wall Street hucksters or moralize about how greed can breed self-destruction. I thought the bacchanalian nature of every single scene made many moral lessons self-evident. Here are some links:

The Wall Street Journal published a profile of Terence Winter, who adapted Jordan Belfort’s memoir into the film. He gives some of his own perspective:

“You, the viewer, are the sucker. You’re being duped and seduced into laughing along with these guys. And every once in a while you’ll hit a little bump in the road”—as when Belfort mentions an employee’s suicide in passing—”where you go, ‘What did he just say?'”

Not many revisions were needed to make the movie’s ’80s and ’90s-era hubris seem relevant, Mr. Winter says: “That’s the point of the movie: We don’t learn anything. Nothing changes.”

From 1905 to 1937, corporate America relied on a Supreme Court case, Lochner v. New York, to challenge most government regulations as violating a “liberty of contract” implicit in the Due Process Clause. Haley Sweetland Edwards argues in Washington Monthly that Citizens United is the new Lochner.

In the Lochner Era, big industry groups and their allies on the Court wielded the notion of “freedom of contract”—any regulation that abridged it was chucked. Today, the notion of “freedom of speech” is being used virtually the same way, just as Rehnquist worried it might be. Any rule or law that abridges a company’s claims to First Amendment-protected speech is now vulnerable to attack.

I’ve argued that generalists are undervalued in our corporate culture. Philosopher Roman Krznaric critiques the “cult of specialization” that has arisen since the Industrial Revolution.

Moreover, our culture of specialization conflicts with something most of us intuitively recognize, but which career advisers are only beginning to understand: we each have multiple selves. … We have complex, multi-faceted experiences, interests, values and talents…

smoking-pregnant-woman1Prevalence of smoking among pregnant women is still, in 2013, 10%.

These numbers are not just women who smoked a little before they realized they were pregnant — these are women who reported smoking during the last three months of their pregnancies.

I’m personally really not a fan of CEOs wearing hoodies. But a recent study profiled in The New Yorker gives some insight into why this “sartorial tactic succeeds.”

But how is nonconformity interpreted by others? Do we see it as a sign of status? New research, to be published next near in The Journal of Consumer Research, suggests that we do. The authors call the phenomenon the “red sneakers effect,” after one of them taught a class at Harvard Business School in her red Converse.

Yuletide Reading and Links

1495490_352111591598550_810066280_nChristmas is always a good time to catch up on reading. I’ve gotten to sit down with my Kindle for more time in the last week than I had in the previous three weeks. I’ve been making my way through Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath,  The Wall Street Journal had an awesome $12.00 for 12 weeks Christmas subscription special, I’m starting to make my way through the books I received as gifts, and Buzzfeed has some awesome Home Alone articles. Some interesting passages for today.

 

From David and Goliath:

The psychologist James Grubman uses the wonderful expression “immigrants to wealth” to describe first-generation millionaires—by which he means that they face the same kinds of challenges in relating to their children that immigrants to any new country face.

Zachary Karabell laments the Internet’s hatred of optimism while offering his own defense:

Optimism is simply the certainty that any human progress to date has been a product of our collective ability to understand how things work and to craft solutions. The conviction that the present is a prelude to a bad future negates that collective ability. Yes, we may indeed be at the end of the line, but by angrily dismissing optimistic arguments we are likely to fail more rapidly.

In a TNR cover piece about Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad, a former advisor gives some perspective:

“He’s more clever than all the Western and U.S. politicians, for sure,” Ayman Abdelnour, a close adviser to Assad before he fell out of favor and fled into exile, told me. Abdelnour then recalled—by way of explaining why Assad was so difficult to take down—something the young president would tell his inner circle about their foreign adversaries. “They are here for a few years,” Assad would say. “My father, seven presidents passed through him.”

Chiara de Blasio, incoming first daughter of New York City, released a Christmas Eve video in which she admitted that she is in recovery for alcohol and drug abuse. Texan-turned-New Yorker Jessica Huseman gave her take:

Admitting drug addiction as self-medication for depression is an obstacle not many successfully hurdle — especially not so publicly. But it is a choice that presents a lot of loaded political questions for the family.

New York City joined other cities by extending its smoking ban to include e-cigarettes. Councilman James Gennaro, who co-sponsored the legislation, gave some insight into why:

Just seeing people smoking things that look identical to cigarettes in subway cars, colleges and public libraries will tend to re-normalize the act of smoking and send the wrong message to kids.

Some Public Health professors at Columbia have a different take:

The evidence, while still thin, suggests that many e-cigarette users, hoping to kick the habit, use e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to tobacco. Research also suggests that e-cigarettes may be better at helping to sustain smoking cessation than pharmaceutical products like nicotine patches or gums.

Speaking of smoking cessation, a really good advertisement for it:

The Vixen and the Lioness

Aesop was a slave in Ancient Greece whom posterity has remembered for his storytelling ability. His fables are still used to impart ethical wisdom. For whatever reason, we respond to fables and parables better than maxims.

If you’ve driven around the northwest side of San Antonio recently, you will have noticed that a heated political campaign is ron signsunderway. There are signs on every block. One of the candidates has invested in giant signs that can be found within a stone’s throw of every polling location.

At a campaign event, my friend and city council candidate Ron Nirenberg invoked Aesop’s story about a vixen and a lioness in a discussion about the ubiquitous signs.

A Vixen who was taking her babies out for an airing one balmy morning, came across a Lioness, with her cub in arms. “Why such airs, haughty dame, over one solitary cub?” sneered the Vixen. “Look at my healthy and numerous litter here, and imagine, if you are able, how a proud mother should feel.” The Lioness gave her a squelching look, and lifting up her nose, walked away, saying calmly, “Yes, just look at that beautiful collection. What are they? Foxes! I’ve only one, but remember, that one is a Lion.”

The Cycle of Accelerated Returns

Robert Greene has had a greater impact on my view of the world than any other author, with the possible exception of Adam Smith. The 48 Laws of Power discusses power dynamics. Only a sociopath would practice all 48 laws in his personal or professional life, but it is helpful to understand how the principles work so that one can recognize when he is using them and when another is using one on him. The Art of Seduction is an examination of seduction, in a sexual and political sense. It provides some insight into how Marilyn Monroe became synonymous with sex in the 20th century and the techniques used by master politicians like Ronald Reagan and JFK. The 33 Strategies of War combines the ancient wisdom of Sun Tzu with the post-Enlightenment theories of von Clausewitz with lessons learned from 20th century wars. Even if you never plan on joining the military or participating in geopolitical struggle, it can serve as a guide for competition in politics or business.

In Mastery Greene seeks to answer a simple question: how can one master a subject? He looks at the lives of Darwin, Mozart, an ace fighter pilot, and an architect, among others, for the universal truths of mastery.

This book wasn’t nearly as entertaining as his previous works, but it is helpful particularly for those who are just beginning their careers. Greene identifies 6 steps on the path to mastery:

  1. Identify your life calling
  2. Find an apprenticeship
  3. Find a mentor
  4. Master social dynamics
  5. Activate your creativity
  6. Marry creativity with reality

The most useful chapters were about the importance of the apprenticeship phase; acting as a sponge to absorb as much information as possible. This makes sense, given my stage in life.

The passage and concept that I found particularly helpful was quoted in a Forbes piece about the book:

Even with skills that are primarily mental, such as computer programming or speaking a foreign language, robert-greene-masteryit remains the case that we learn best through practice and repetition—the natural learning process. We learn a foreign language by actually speaking it as much as possible, not by reading books and absorbing theories. The more we speak and practice, the more fluent we become.

Once you take this far enough, you enter a cycle of accelerated returns in which the practice becomes easier and more interesting, leading to the ability to practice for longer hours, which increases your skill level, which in turn makes practice even more interesting. Reaching this cycle is the goal you must set for yourself, and to get there you must understand some basic principles about skills themselves.

First, it is essential that you begin with one skill that you can master, and that serves as a foundation for acquiring others. You must avoid at all cost the idea that you can manage learning several skills at a time. You need to develop your powers of concentration, and understand that trying to multi task will be the death of the process.

Second, the initial stages of learning a skill invariably involve tedium. Yet rather than avoiding this inevitable tedium, you must accept and embrace it. The pain and boredom we experience in the initial stage of learning a skill toughens our minds, much like physical exercise. Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life, which makes them constantly search for distractions and short-circuits the learning process. The pain is a kind of challenge your mind presents—will you learn how to focus and move past the boredom, or like a child will you succumb to the need for immediate pleasure and distraction? Much as with physical exercise, you can even get a kind of perverse pleasure out of this pain, knowing the benefits it will bring you. In any event, you must meet any boredom head-on and not try to avoid or repress it. Throughout your life you will encounter tedious situations, and you must cultivate the ability to handle them with discipline.

The cycle of accelerated returns. The snowball effect. I’ve watched it with people playing instruments or learning languages or writing. Quite fascinating.

Cycle of Accelerated Returns