These Four Words Will Help You ‘Hold Strong Opinions Weakly’

I first heard the phrase from tech entrepreneur turned venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.

“Strong opinions, weakly held”

I love this concept. (In fact, I almost called my podcast, “Strong Opinions, Weekly Held”).  I had never thought of it in such a succinct way, but this approach has been valuable to me for some time.

The beauty lies in the ability to embrace the power of definiteness and the power of openness at once.  When you act, you can’t be of two minds.  You have to commit and proceed boldly.  But to understand the world you have to constantly learn, adapt, and grow, which implies shifting direction.

Here are the four words I employ to do both:

“As if it’s true”

When I am taken by an idea I act as if it’s true.  The “as if” is important, because it reminds me that I’m acting on the best available knowledge and that I’m fallible.  The “it’s true” is equally important, because unless and until being convinced otherwise I must decisively move forward.

One of the strengths of this approach is the lightened intellectual burden and the enhanced importance of experimentation over theory alone.  If you have to settle on complete truth before translating it to action you’re unlikely to act.  Action is one of the key factors in generating the feedback necessary to know if your ideas are correct.  And on the other side if you only ever act on an idea without reflecting on the feedback you’ll crash and burn if your initial hunch was wrong.

When it comes to something really big like launching a business I think the core idea or purpose of the business – the “why” – must be something unchangeable.  If it turns out the “why” is wrong, better to quit and start an entirely different business than to try to “pivot” to a new purpose.

But the how and what are subject to change.  You don’t plan to change them, or pussyfoot around waiting for a focus group to give them to you.  You arrive at conclusions – opinions – about the world and act decisively, while holding onto them weakly.  You act as if they are true unless and until it’s proven they are not.

New information, new competitors, and new ideas are never a threat but a welcome opportunity.  Any chance to firmly disprove your theory means a chance to improve.  But put the new stuff to the test.  Always operate as if the current theory is true until it is completely clear it’s not.  Don’t just get scared or take someone’s word for it that your approach is obsolete.  Act as if it’s spot on until you know it isn’t.  But always be eagerly looking for evidence that it’s not.

The “eureka moment” is valuable.  Don’t let it get lost in a sea of analysis.  But that doesn’t mean you have to never let it adapt.  Move forward as if your initial insight is true while constantly scouring the globe for reasons it mightn’t be.  Act on your current truths while adding to them.

To hold strong opinions weakly, act as if your current knowledge is true until you know it’s not.

Episode 69: Robin Hanson on the Coming Age of Robots

Special thanks to show producer Lav Kozakijevic for his tireless work editing, posting, and adding show notes for each and every episode!

We live at a time when artificial intelligence is booming and major breakthroughs are happening, with a lot of people thinking about what is coming and how will it impact society. Robin Hanson is an economics professor at GMU with a background that ranges from philosophy, to physics and computer research.

He joins me today to talk about his book ‘The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth’ which is shipping as we speak, where he outlines what he thinks will happen when humans become able to emulate a human brain in a machine. We discuss what are the things that might be different, what are those that will change less than we expect, and how social institutions will change once AI reaches such a level.

Don’t skip his blog overcomingbias.com and you can order his new book from Amazon here.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

Newest Book Now in Audio Format

Why Haven’t You Read This Book?” is now available in audio format!

Huge thanks to Mitchell Earl for his work narrating the book and getting it added to Amazon.  You can get it with an Audible subscription.

Additionally, Mitchell setup an awesome way to get any chapter from the book for free here.  Since each chapter is a totally unique story from a unique author, you can simply pick your favorite and listen as a stand-alone audio essay.

Episode 68.5: FwTK – Wishful Thinking, Delusion, Coding, and Language

Today we discuss my threatening letter from the municipal business license office, TK’s appearance on the Tom Woods show and some critical comments he received, whether believing in your own power is delusional, why wishful thinking is the source of all the good stuff, why faith is not the absence of logic but a remembrance of it, whether coding is a skill every will need or no one will need, old-timey radio voices, and more!

Mentioned in the episode: Rebecca Black, Child’s Play, Become a Rich Employee, Web Browsers Beat GPA’s, Shaquille O’Neal shooting threes, C.S. Lewis, Marc Andreessen, Game of Thrones (no spoilers), and a lot more I’m probably forgetting.

Oh, and believe it or not, this is the 100th episode of the podcast!  Why is it numbers 68.5?  Several episodes like “Ask Isaac” and other special features are not numbered.  But 100 total episodes posted nonetheless.  Make sure to rate and review us if you like it!

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

Apprenticeships Aren’t Just for Welders; Startups Aren’t Just for Coders

I make the case over at the Praxis blog that apprenticeships, especially at startups and growing small businesses, are the best possible way to learn and build an awesome career.

Be around people who are doing what you want to do.  Create value for them.  Don’t just theorize, but practice.

“There is no better way to be a part of something meaningful, to learn what entrepreneurship means, to get a great job, and to take the first steps in an exciting career and life than to apprentice at a startup.

Not everyone wants to write code.  And startups need more than just coders.  They need people who love people!  People who want to learn marketing, sales, and operations.  People who are eager to contribute to a powerful vision and help it grow.

If you want to build an amazing career and be a part of the entrepreneurial Renaissance there’s no need to wait on the sidelines or blast out resumes and hope.”

Check out the post and check out Praxis if you want to build a great career today!

“I Hated School but Thought I Had to Do More of It”

One of the youngest participants in the Praxis program, Charles Porges, was just hired on full-time at his business partner, even though he’s not even halfway through the apprenticeship.

No one, Charles included, assumed someone straight out of high school could be doing amazing work in project management and analysis at a growing startup.  If you’re not loving and excelling at formal schooling, how can you build a career and succeed in the market?  Turns out the opposite is more often true.  The academic-focused world tends to devalue what the market values and vice-versa.

Charles’ story is inspiring to me.  Not because he got a job without the debt and waste, but because he’s happy and fulfilled in a challenging, meaningful work environment.  That’s what it’s all about.

I’ll let him tell the story.  Here’s what Charles shared with the Praxis group:

“Yesterday was my first day of working full-time at my business partner.

Words cannot express how ecstatic I am to be in the position that I currently am. Every single day of work is extremely valuable for both my business partner and myself. Not to mention, I believe deeply in the product, and my boss is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Every one of my interactions with him has been both positive and meaningful.

This time about one year ago, I was in online high school, dreading every second I spent in front of my computer. My days were filled with meaningless assignments, time-wasting projects, and a feeling of hopelessness.

And not too long before that, I was in public high school. I felt like I was in a prison for forty hours a week, and on parole when I had to complete hours upon hours of homework. Most teachers were up to par with your average DMV worker, and almost none of my peers shared my ambition or intellectual curiosity. I was nothing short of depressed, and there were many days where I wished I simply didn’t have to wake up in the morning.

Ever since I joined Praxis, I’ve felt like I have been living a different life. Not only am I free from the cage of state-mandated education, but I know that every action I’m taking is for the purpose of creating a better version of myself. My Praxis advisers have been instrumental to my success in the program so far, and I would like to thank them for all of their guidance. I do not know where I would be without this program.

I only wish that I could talk to my younger self and tell him that there is another way!”

If you want to apprentice with a startup, get coaching and rigorous personal development, and learn by doing, let’s talk about Praxis.  Whether you’re coming out of highschool like Charles, in college and wilting, or have a degree but aren’t happy with your career prospects, we can help.

If You’re Flaky, Be Good Flaky

Some people are flaky.  Always flitting from thing to thing, idea to idea.  By the time others get on board they’ve already moved on.

If this is you don’t fear.  You don’t need to curb your curiosity or appetite for change in order to be successful.

Flaky can be a good thing.  I know people who channel this ADD tendency into amazing productivity.  They get excited by a lot of different things and their attention shifts rapidly, but they act on that excitement immediately.  These are people who no sooner get excited by an idea and they’re blogging about it or buying three books on Amazon.  They read the subject, launch the club, have the conversations, and start the project.  They may leave loose ends and sometimes move too quickly, but they leave a beneficial surplus of ideas and energy in their wake that gets picked up by others.

Good flaky shifts attention rapidly but “ships” just as rapidly.

Flaky can be a bad thing too.  I know people who have the same ADD tendencies but with each new interest it’s only talk.  They constantly talk about what they’re going to do, what new thing they’ve discovered, the newest solutions, movements, cures.  They always have something in progress or “almost ready”.  Articles they want to write, websites about to launch, events they are planning with their friend, some new thing or another.  They get you excited but don’t deliver.

Bad flaky shifts attention rapidly and never “ships” anything.

Productive flakes are fun and can be a boon to a team or cause.  It’s pretty easy for people to know their strengths and limitations.  They don’t do well in long-term managerial roles, but they are great for creative projects and rallying people around short-term visions.  They are the kind of people who get away with breaking rules.  People accommodate them and don’t demand as much predictability and consistency.  They can be late.  They can drop communication sometimes.  They can forget things.  These are annoying but known traits that become tolerable given the constant production.  Just when you’re about to get mad that a ball was dropped, a brilliant piece of work you never expected emerges.  Getting sh*t done covers a multitude of eccentricities.

Unproductive flakes are frustrating and drag projects and people down.  They have the same exciting energy and stream of ideas at first, which makes the failure to deliver all the worse.  The roller-coaster of expectations and disappointments gets old fast.  They get ignored.  They burn through social capital.  Their emails don’t get responses.  Ideas and a fun attitude are not enough.  If you’re not shipping they become annoying.  The bad flake turns their greatest asset into a liability.

It’s pretty simple.

If you know you have ADD tendencies, be a good flake.  Immediately act.  Don’t let the moment of inspiration go.  Your lack of long-term focus doesn’t have to ruin you.  But overcome the fear or insecurity or laziness or whatever holds you back and act on your inspiration immediately, always, every time.  You’ll amass a great body of work, gain a solid reputation, and have a lot of fun.

Whatever you do, don’t talk about your latest passion unless and until you’ve shipped something to show for it.

(If you’re not at all prone to flakiness, this post isn’t for you.  Sorry.  You have a different challenge with too much cost-benefit analysis or an obsession over options.)

Episode 68: Let’s Do a Job Interview, with Daniel Myers

A young tech company builds software for small businesses. It employs around 10-15 people and is currently hiring. That is a hypothetical situation which myself and Daniel Myers go through in this episode of the podcast, with me being the recruiter and Daniel a young prospect.

Some standard questions that appear during almost every interview are covered, along with some of the ones that I personally like to ask on interviews. After the mock-up we also go through some of the basics concerning job interview preparation and the point of view that interviewees should take.

Get in touch with Daniel on LinkedIn.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

The Justice-Morality Matrix

There’s a lot of discussion about whether particular policies or outcomes are just or moral.  Often the terms are used synonymously or never really defined or distinguished.

I have written about what I see as crucial and fundamental differences between justice and morality in this post.  I claim that justice is public and subjective – an emergent phenomena to deal with conflict and coordinate peace – while morality is private and objective – and internal compass to deal with self-regulation and coordinate peace of mind.

“Justice is about living with other people, while morality is about living with yourself.  Justice is about right relation to others as measured against the mores of society, while morality is about right relation to right itself, as measured against your own beliefs”

To further illustrate what I mean by this, here’s a matrix showing four actions and where they might stand in relation to justice and morality:

Justice-Morality Matrix (1)

Just-Moral is pretty easy to accept and needs little clarification.  No parties are harmed and the actor feels no guilt.  We’re assuming this action was not in violation to any belief or commitment to abstain from boat-buying on the part of the buyer.

Just-Immoral depends more on your own beliefs about right and wrong, but regardless of belief systems or acceptance/rejection of any divine or natural morality, all humans have a sense of guilt.  The just-immoral quadrant is for those actions that cause no one else any harm, but harm the actor by giving him/her a sense of guilt and wrongdoing, regardless of its origin.  The point is that the act feels wrong to the actor, and they in fact believe it to be wrong.

Moral-Unjust is when an act clearly causes harm to someone even though the actor feels complete confidence it was the right thing to do.  Justice, in service to maintaining cooperation and peace, might demand recompense, but no guilty feelings are associated with the action.  Third parties observing may be inspired by the morality of the action, but to conflate that with justice is unfair to the harmed party.

Immoral-Unjust is pretty easy as well.  A party was wronged and the actor violated conscience or belief in right/wrong.

These examples may be flawed, but I think the fact that justice and morality are not the same thing is incredibly important.  When they become conflated, and far worse when either become conflated with government edict, moral atrocities and grave injustices unfold on small and large scales.

The key for both is an open, spontaneous, evolving system of give and take – a market for norms and institutions – rather than a tightly defined universal and centralized enforcement.  Common law and basic manners are good examples of this, whereas criminal law and legislation are the opposite.

Episode 67.5: FwTK – Blame Readers not Writers, Creativity Means Losing Control

Did Malcolm Gladwell really get it wrong?

People love to point out when a writer shares an idea that’s oversimplified or could be misapplied if not interpreted wisely.  Why don’t they pick on the readers who are dumb enough to misinterpret it instead?

Do ideas come first and bring about changes in technology and social institutions or do those changes come first and bring about new ideas?  What does the answer mean when it comes to creativity?  Can you control your ideas without stifling creativity?  What does it mean to have 100% equity in the startups in your head vs. 5% in those you actually create?

Mentioned in the episode: The Nirvana Fallacy, Kristen Stewart, Twilight, Malcolm Gladwell and his detractors, Scott Berkun, Agere Sequiter Credere, Paul Cantor’s Commerce & Culture, Blake Lively, The Waking Life, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Apparition, The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Bruce Levine, Thundersqueak, Youth Pastors, and more that I’m forgetting.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

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