A Fun Way to Experience the Present

When I’m driving, I sometimes imagine individuals from various points in human history riding with me as we listen to the radio. I think about the songs, lyrics, even ads, and consider what kind of conversations and reactions they would generate from a person from medieval England or turn of the century America.

What would Bach think of The Black Keys? What would a farmer or slave in the new world think of modern blues and folk? What would a chariot driver think of going 70 on the highway?

I’ve played this mental game as long as I can remember. Sometimes it gets so exciting I feel genuine pain that I can’t transport someone from the past to experience the present.

131 – WTF?! with Peter Leesson

Peter Leeson is a professor of economics and law at George Mason University, known for his work applying rational choice theory to unusual rituals and superstitions, piracy, and anarchy.

His most recent book WTF?! an Economic Tour of the Weird, dives into some of the strangest rituals and events around the world and explains them using rational choice theory.

In the face of the mainstream popularity of behavioral economics claiming humans are irrational, Peter looks at some of the bizarre, weird, unexplainable, and crazy parts of societies around the world and uses clear economic thinking to explain the logic and rationality behind them.

In this episode, Isaac and Peter dive into some weird examples covered in the book and then some frustrating and confusing behavior from the world around us like the price of razors, or why people speed up when you go to pass them on the highway.

Links:

Topics Covered:

  • Peter’s new book WTF?! an Economic Tour of the Weird
  • Ordeals to try accused of crimes in medieval Europe
  • The logic behind ordeals
  • Ball don’t lie
  • The value of oracles
  • The difference between rational beliefs and rational actions
  • Wife selling in 18th century England
  • Why are razors so expensive?
  • Why slow drivers speed up when you go to pass them?
  • Are people rational?
  • Beliefs as a constraint
  • The risk in trying to change beliefs
  • The criminal prosecution of insects and rodents
  • Peter’s upcoming projects (the economics of panhandlers)

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All episodes of the Isaac Morehouse Podcast are available on SoundCloudiTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

How to Have a Family and a Business

I’m taking questions on Quora today on this topic.  Here’s the first, and my response.

In the startup world, an unspoken hostility exist towards having a family life while trying to grow startups. What’s your advice for how to go about doing both?

Well the first thing is to not worry about unspoken hostilities.

In general, just focus on your startup when it comes to investors, employees, etc. If what you’re doing makes sense and you’re getting traction, they won’t much care what you do outside of work.

If someone pushes or asks, own it. You can say, “It might be harder to do this with a family than without, I don’t know. Maybe it’s easier. I don’t really care. I’m doing it with a family and it’s going to succeed!”

I once heard someone say that if you want to be in startups, you get to pick two items from this list:

  • Your company
  • Social life/hobbies
  • Family/love life

You can’t put energy into all three.

I fully believe this, and I’ve come to believe the trilemma goes further still…

It’s not just that you get to pick two, you have to pick two if you want to succeed.

That is, if you have absolutely nothing outside of your startup, you are likely to burnout, go insane, become a tyrant, lose heart, lose perspective, and lose your edge easier and sooner than if you have one other thing to ground you.

With a family, you’re at an advantage! You have no other hobbies or distracting flim-flam. You have your business and your family. Outside the company, you have but one incredibly powerful, grounding, perspective-granting, efficiency-rewarding, bullshit-cutting, incentive-setting thing that will make every minute you spend on your startup more valuable, and demand that you step outside of it every so often.

The three clearest ways having a family has helped me as an entrepreneur is with time, perspective, and motivation.

Bottom line, startups are really, really hard. There are always going to be challenges unique to you, or reasons you or others think you won’t succeed. It doesn’t matter if it’s a family, a hobby, a personality, a missing skill set, lack of capital, or anything else. Those are the obstacles that prevent everyone else from doing what you’re going to do.

Take pride in it.

Footnotes

[1] You Get to Pick Two | Praxis

[2] You Have to Pick Two – Isaac Morehouse

[3] The Advantages of Having a Family While Running a Business – Isaac Morehouse

How Movie References Improve Company Culture

At Praxis, we have an all-remote team, work happening nearly every hour of every day, rapid communication, high expectations, and bend-over-backwards customer service.

We are all pretty independent, confident, and unafraid of conflict.  We debate and discuss a lot of stuff, and have little patience for poor performance, delay, bureaucracy, or make-work.  We’re competitive, we want to win, and we’re trying to grow every day.

This is a great recipe for startup growth.  It’s also a great recipe for stress, misunderstanding, frustration, and tension.

To date, the greatest tool to relieve potentially contentious situations and re-frame things with proper focus is a movie reference.

Slack, Voxer, Zoom, email.  Doesn’t matter the platform.  When we’re deep in work discussions, a clever, well-timed movie reference always makes everything better.  I can’t think of an exception.

Someone finds out another team member was already working on a project they’d been grinding on themselves without telling them?  Everyone’s a little miffed, but there’s only one way to reset the mood and restore a proper, productive pace…

Sometimes, I ask two team members to work together to handle something where it might be quicker for just one.  A little annoyance at being pulled into an unexpected task can fester and harm culture.  But who could let it if it’s followed by this?

I can’t tell you how many times movie or TV references have bolstered morale, broken tension with a laugh, or re-aligned the narrative in a productive way when it could have gone subtly south (and sometimes inspired a mini YouTube binge session…maybe not great for productivity, but good for fun!)

The only things that come close to the power of movie and TV references for the health of the Praxis team are NBA references.

(Hip-hop references appear sometimes too, but those usually require a higher level of background knowledge and aren’t as universal).

The Danger and Usefulness of Labels

“I want to go into business.”

What do you mean by business?

“I guess I don’t know.”

I have a lot of conversations like that with young people.  They have some ill-defined desires and fears, and they feel pressure to choose a destiny or at least provide a ready answer when someone asks, “What are you doing?”  The resolution comes from a label.

Pick from a handful of standard labels deemed understandable and acceptable, and voila!  You don’t need to stress so much about who you are and what you want.  It might even provide a superficial sense of belonging to a label group.  “Marketing”, “Creative stuff”, “Hospitality”, “Outdoors”, “Media”, “Entrepreneurship”, and a few other labels get tossed around.

But these labels make self-knowledge harder, not easier.  They provide the illusion of self-knowledge and direction, and distract from the fact that they have no substance.  When you ask, “OK, marketing.  What kinds of specific activities do you want to do for people?” the illusion crumbles.  The dawning realization that, despite the label (partly because of it), you have no idea what you mean by it or what you want.

Same goes for lifestyle labels like, “Travel”, “Remote work”, “Passive income”, “Work I’m passionate about”, “Social entrepreneurship”.  No one is hiring any of those.  People are paying money to get specific problems solved that are valuable to them.  Which problems do you plan to solve?  How will you leverage your skill in solving those problems into a lifestyle you want?

It’s better to eschew labels altogether until you have a lot of clear self-knowledge.  When you don’t, they stymie the process of getting it and lure you into thinking the label provides meaning.  It doesn’t.

Once you have a good deal of self-knowledge and self-honesty, labels can be handy tools to use when communicating to others.  Don’t confuse them with your true identity, but at a cocktail party, it’s nice to have to shorten an uninteresting conversation.  I thought I’d have more to say on the usefulness aspect, but I guess that’s it.

Just Keep Working

The fewer shiny objects that attract your attention, the better.

To be sure, some of those shiny objects turn out to be awesome, big wins.  But it doesn’t matter.  They’ll find you if you do your work.  If you keep scanning the horizon to find and chase them, you’ll never get work done, so even if you catch one you won’t be able to take advantage.

Just do the day’s work, then move on to the next day’s work again and again and again.  Never stop, never die.

The compounding effect of making yourself better every day and shipping something will lead to more shiny objects than you could ever hope to amass by chasing them.

Head down, work done, on to the next one.

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