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The Personal MBA

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There is absolutely nothing I can say about the Personal MBA that hasn’t been said.

I cheat and present Derek Sivers’ notes on the book.

But here’s his point about the book as a whole …

Wow. A masterpiece. This is now the one “START HERE” book I'll be recommending to everybody interested in business. An amazing overview of everything you need to know. Covers all the basics, minus buzz-words and fluff. Look at my notes for an example, but read the whole book. One of the most inspiring things I've read in years.
Want proof? I asked the author to be my coach/mentor afterwards. It's that good.

My main regret? That the book was on my shelf nearly three years before I picked it up. Talk about lost time.
And as someone who’s helped friends with their MBAs and helped his wife with her DBA, I can absolutely attest that the Personal MBA, does what it claims to do.
It’s world class education for less than 500 bucks.

I’m also a bit jealous and awed. Josh read and synthesised and made notes on so many books and created a smashingly amazing syntopical work. Which is what I do so agonisingly slowly here :P

Short, pithy notes and chapters, keep you engrossed and the book is pretty fast paced and engaging for the enormous breadth of knowledge it seeks to distill within its 500 pages.

Personally biased, I loved the chapters on antifragility, optionality and tinkering. Those are Taleb terms. Josh calls them Resilience, Fail Safes and The Experimental Mindset.

But the whole book is awesome!
It’s my new quake book.

I learnt so much and I know I will learn much more as I revisit it again and again.
I’ll close with two things. The short B. C. Forbes passage (all emphases, mine) that Josh closes the book with, and a short audio introduction below.

Your success depends on you.
Your happiness depends on you.
You have to steer your own course.
You have to shape your own fortune.
You have to educate yourself.
You have to do your own thinking.
You have to live with your own conscience.
Your mind is yours and can be used only by you.
You come into this world alone.
You go to the grave alone.
You are alone with your inner thoughts during the journey between.
You make your own decisions.
You must abide by the consequences of your acts …
You alone can regulate your habits and make or unmake your health. You alone can assimilate things mental and things material …
You have to do your own assimilation all through life.
You can be taught by a teacher, but you have to imbibe the knowledge. He cannot transfuse it into your brain.
You alone can control your mind cells and your brain cells.
You may have spread before you the wisdom of the ages, but unless you assimilate it you derive no benefit from it; no one can force it into your cranium.
You alone can move your own legs.
You alone can move your own arms
You alone can control your own muscles.
You must stand on your feet, physically and metaphorically.
You must take your own steps.
Your parents cannot enter into your skin, take control of your mental and physical machinery, and make something of you.
You cannot fight your son’s battles; that he must do for himself.
You have to be captain of your own destiny.
You have to see through your own eyes.
You have to use your own ears.
You have to master your own faculties.
You have to solve your own problems.
You have to form your own ideals.
You have to create your own ideas.
You must choose your own speech.
You must govern your own tongue.
Your real life is your thoughts.
Your thoughts are your own making.
Your character is your own handiwork.
You alone can select the materials that go into it.
You alone can reject what is not fit to go into it.
You are the creator of your own personality.
You can be disgraced by no man’s hand but your own.
You can be elevated and sustained by no man but yourself.
You have to write your own record.
You have to build your own monument—or dig your own pit. Which are you doing?



Book Notes – The First 20 Hours


“The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne.”
— Geoffrey Chaucer, Parlement Of Foules, 1374

This quote that opens the book reflects the chaos in my life.
I have too many things to do, a busy life and yet, innately I am an autodidact.
I yearn to learn new things!
And learning new things is also how I’m slowly shifting my career goals.
Needless to repeat, tonnes to do, and grains of time in hand.

My growing frustration with why I cannot learn things as fast as I want to in conjunction, with aforesaid situation, is when I picked up this book by Josh Kaufman, last night. It seemed right for my situation. I’d bought it up along with The Personal MBA, a while ago and they’re in my unread pile.

And I was done in 2 hours. I don’t know why I did not read this earlier and save myself a tonne of grief.
While I’m slogging away at lots of things, I now realise I do not have to slog at all of them equally :)

“Work smarter, not harder.” As it turns out, the process of skill acquisition is not really about the raw hours you put in … it’s what you put into those hours.

Also, I don’t really want to become a world class expert. Just “good enough” will do, with most of the things I want to learn.

Based on research conducted by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson expert-level performance takes, on average, ten thousand hours of deliberate practice to achieve.
Ten thousand hours equals eight hours of deliberate practice every day for approximately three and a half years, with no breaks, no weekends, and no vacations. Assuming a standard 260 working days a year with no distractions, that’s a full-time job for almost five years, assuming you spend 100 percent of that time exerting 100 percent of your energy and effort.

As if learning a new skill wasn’t hard enough. Not only do you have to make time for practice … but you now also have to put in ten thousand hours? Most of us count ourselves lucky if we can set aside a few hours a week. Why bother at all if it takes so long to be good at something?

But … and this is a big but;

There’s an element of Dr. Ericsson’s research that’s very easy to overlook: it’s a study of expert-level performance. If you’re looking to become the next Tiger Woods, you’ll probably need to spend at least ten thousand hours deliberately and systematically practicing every aspect of golf.

On the other hand, what if winning the PGA Tour isn’t your goal?

That’s another matter entirely. World-class mastery may take ten thousand hours of focused effort, but developing the capacity to perform well enough for your own purposes usually requires far less of an investment.

That’s not to discount the value of what Ericsson calls “deliberate practice”: intentionally and systematically practicing in order to improve a skill. Deliberate practice is the core of skill acquisition. The question is how much deliberate practice is required to reach your goal. Usually, it’s much less than you think.

Leave the ten thousand hours to the pros. We’re going to start with twenty hours of concentrated, intelligent, focused effort.

20 hours! 20 hours to pick up and get good enough at a new skill? Now that’s an idea I can get behind.
And just how are we going to spend those 20 hours?
In a process called Rapid Skill Acquisition

You’ll have a better chance of success if you start with twenty hours of rapid skill acquisition.

Rapid skill acquisition has four major steps:

  • Deconstructing a skill into the smallest possible subskills;
  • Learning enough about each subskill to be able to practice intelligently and self-correct during practice;
  • Removing physical, mental, and emotional barriers that get in the way of practice;
  • Practicing the most important subskills for at least twenty hours.

And while that is the big, one–two–three–step, high level, 30,000 foot overview of the process, here’s ten principles to get you to do rapid skill acquisition really, really quickly

  1. Choose a lovable project. (or something you really, really want to solve)
  2. Focus your energy on one skill at a time. (Guilty! will pare them down to 2)
  3. Define your target performance level. (Define your enough. I want to learn just enough Ansible to setup my server)
  4. Deconstruct the skill into subskills. (This was my biggest aha! Know the map. Know your map. I used to think of Python as this big amorphous thing that’d take me years to learn. Now I’ll just take it one problem to solve at a time. What problems? Well I’ll figure that out for myself.)
  5. Obtain critical tools. (Try and do all your yak shaving beforehand)
  6. Eliminate barriers to practice. (I just roll out of bed and eat my physio frog first. That’s the hardest. Followed by studies now that I know this)
  7. Make dedicated time for practice. (Mornings for 12th studies. evenings for programming)
  8. Create fast feedback loops. (Well Python is brutal at that. You know instantly when you’re wrong. But with studies, I can do this with Anki and tests)
  9. Practice by the clock in short bursts. (Pomodoro FTW!)
  10. Emphasize quantity and speed. (Lots of writing to improve writing, lots of studies to do well in 12th, lots of Python to … well you get the idea)

And this is just the first two chapters :)
Josh also has another chapter on effective learning to close out the first half of the book.
The second part is the fun part.
Josh walks the talk and tackles six disciplines that run the gamut from health (Yoga) to a mental discipline (programming) to physical (windsurfing) to prove that rapid skill acquisition works.
And how!
Yoga’s done in three hours, programming in twenty, and he falls short in windurfing, doing nine and learning a tonne, but ending up thwarted by nature.

This is amazing!
Six skills in less than a year!

Is this possible? Really possible? Why, yes of course, Josh promises, with this caveat,

You can prepare. You can research. You can eliminate distractions and alter your environment to make it easier to practice. You can find intelligent ways to make your practice more effective or efficient.
But, in the end, you must practice.
What feels like the long way is the shortest way.
Zero-practice shortcuts don’t exist.
No practice, no skill acquisition. It’s as simple as that.

To see how he did what he did, watch Josh’s TedX Talk above.
To learn how to practice deliberately, with intention, read Peak or watch the whimsical summary below.

And like Josh asks as he closes the book,
What will you do today?



Daily Writing, 43 – How to Pick a Career

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I’ve written about the critical distinction between “reasoning from first principles” and “reasoning by analogy”—or what I called being a “chef” vs. being a “cook.”

The idea is that reasoning from first principles is reasoning like a scientist. You take core facts and observations and use them to puzzle together a conclusion, kind of like a chef playing around with raw ingredients to try to make them into something good. By doing this puzzling, a chef eventually writes a new recipe. The other kind of reasoning—reasoning by analogy—happens when you look at the way things are already done and you essentially copy it, with maybe a little personal tweak here and there—kind of like a cook following an already written recipe.

For any particular part of your life that involves reasoning and decision making, wherever you happen to be on the spectrum, your reasoning process can usually be boiled down to fundamentally chef-like or fundamentally cook-like.
Creating vs. copying.
Originality vs. conformity.

Being a chef takes a tremendous amount of time and energy—which makes sense, because you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, you’re trying to invent it for the first time. Puzzling your way to a conclusion feels like navigating a mysterious forest while blindfolded and always involves a whole lot of failure, in the form of trial and error.
Being a cook is far easier and more straightforward and less icky. In most situations, being a chef is a terrible waste of time, and comes with a high opportunity cost, since time on Earth is immensely scarce.
Throughout my life, I’ve looked around at people who seem kind of like me and I’ve bought a bunch of clothes that look like what they wear. And this makes sense—because clothes aren’t important to me, and they’re not how I choose to express my individuality. So in my case, fashion is a perfect part of life to use a reasoning shortcut and be a cook.

But, when you subtract childhood (~175,000 hours) and the portion of your adult life you’ll spend sleeping, eating, exercising, and otherwise taking care of the human pet you live in, along with errands and general life upkeep (~325,000 hours), you’re left with 250,000 “meaningful adult hours.” So a typical career will take up somewhere between 20% and 60% of your meaningful adult time—not something to be a cook about.

It’s a regular length Tim Urban article
(This means it’s looong … booklet sized)
And it’s practical.
And humourous.
And absolutely smashing.
And packed with wisdom.
Go, read.


Writing Day 33 - Akimbo

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I’ve been raving to my friends about Akimbo and I’m surprised I haven’t written about it here.
It’s one of the reasons, I’m glad I’m alive at a time like this.
There’s no way without modern technology, I could learn from a master like Seth Godin for free!

Akimbo is Seth’s latest project and it’s podcast on all things Seth.
To me, it’s my real life MBA.
They’re weekly, punchy, 20 minute episodes on a topic.

Last weeks episode about Genius was genius.

This week was all about The Long Term.
Ponzi schemes, Bitcoin ponzi ICOs, Mr. Ponzi himself, Whales, Hippos, Fedex, Olive trees, Starbucks and even Superman make an appearance.

Here are a few scambled notes …

  • Emergencies feel like a matter of life or death
  • Every culture in every corner of the globe has adopted the mindset that tomorrow is too late!
    1. We’re impatient and want a quick return on our effort
    2. We want proof. We’re insecure that our effort will pay off
    3. We want excitement!
    4. All three of these create a ratchet, that quickens things up drastically (and on a personal note, makes things overwhelming)
  • Human beings are really shitty at the long run
    If you want prople to take action, you gotta compress it forward.
  • If you want to change the behaviour of a group of people, make it all about the now. Make it urgent, not important.

    • Make it painful and expensive in the moment, if you want to stop them doing something (e.g. hefty taxes of cigarettes)
    • Make it lucrative and fun when you want them to pay attention.
  • Stuff that matters, Mother Nature, everything actually takes a looooooong time.

  • We need to figure out how to build resilient organisations with a mission that goes out further than a week

    • Our mission statement can’t be about market share
    • But about the work that matters
  • Every one of us is capable of doing it

  • There’s a significant advantage to be willing to take a long time, to inexorably evolve bit by bit, day by day, to deal with the Long Run.
    We are capable of of building organizations and companies like this.
    You could use emergencies to our advantage, create positive ratchets.
    Drip by drip, day by day, we change the culture.

Don’t forget to catch the show notes for each episode. They’re delightful.
And yes, go subscribe!


Writing Day 24 – Why I Love My Insights

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I’ve come across several a-has in life all on my ownsome.

I struggled with credit cards and debt and realised much of what were Dave Ramsey’s baby steps and later Taleb’s thoughts on optionality all on my own.

When I read about them later, it was a huge boost of Hell Yeah!

While I do realise that life is to short to learn by experience, and that most of my “original” thoughts will have been thought of long before I ever did, it’s such a high to arrive at an insight all on my ownsome.

Figuring out something by experience or by reason is fun :)

It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise.
William Deresiewicz


Writing Day 23 – On the Need for Mental Rigour

I’ve been learning Maths and daydreaming about careers in Mathematics
I loved the idea of being a pure Mathematician and then realised that path was not for me. My head hurts when I focus on my Maths work :P

But then it struck me how much of Maths & Science was done by people in their spare time, by tinkering and thinking long and hard and with focus on or about something.
So many folks had day jobs that had little to nothing to do with their work and the accomplishments they were known for.

Einsteing was technical assistant examiner at the Swiss Patent Office.
Newton was Master of Coin.
Fermat was a lawyer.
Descartes was a soldier and then lived off investments
Mendel was a priest
Hooke was an architect
Da Vinci was forever doing stuff for various dukes and Popes and it’s a wonder, he found time for Maths and all the other revolutionary stuff he penned down.

Which then led me to thinking … they must have worked in their spare time to do this. It must have tested their will. And it must have been hard.

“I have used the involuntary house arrest around Easter to solve the equation”

Schrödinger, on the degree of concentration he needed in order to solve an equation relating to Einstein's general relativity

Which led me to wonder …
What kept them going?
They must have has some quality that contributed to these towering feats of mental acuity.

And then it struck me, what Cal Newport was banging on about with his idea of Deep Work.

Theirs was an age of Willpower!
They were masters of the skill.
That was my secondary observation from the book.

“The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.”

— Charles Darwin

Forget the geniuses, even amongst Freud’s ordinary patients

The Victorian middle-class citizens … had intensely strong wills, making it difficult for therapists to break through their ironclad defenses and their sense of what was right and wrong.

So I’m off, to build willpower, like Calvin does. (as did his old original)

P.S.
Orthogonally related: Just ran into this post on Shane’s blog.