2012 “Lessons”

So many of these “Lessons Learned in 2012” posts should be rather titled “Awesome Stuff I Did and How You Can Do Them Too.” They’re not really learning, just preaching narratives that fit their experiences. Narcissism is a bitch.

Don’t learn from successes: the causal mechanism of success is often random, outside of our control anyway. More important: learn from failures, mistakes, or close-scrapes with utter failure. Make a list from that and it’ll benefit you more than learning from success ever could. Here’s mine:

  1. Trust your friends – just by the fact that they are different from you, they have different knowledge/experience/perspectives. This differentness allows for lateral problem solving, whether business or personal. This differentness is a form of smarter-than, as in they know different stuff so they see the same thing you see differently and bring something new to the table. Thus, trust your friends, because they are smarter than you.
  2. ALWAYS reason from first principles, not from analogy. It’s harder to do, but first principles allow you a framework with which to solve the problem at hand creatively. It’s literally a framework for innovation. Elon Musk talks about this. Engineers are good at this. Make friends with engineers. Then trust them.
  3. Start with morality. Having a strong moral base (actually, ethics) from which you make decisions makes everything clearer. Start here. Read some books: Ethics and Infinity which is a good introduction to Levinas, The Moral Animal by Robert Wright on evolutionary psychology which is okay, Emerson, Hume, and Nietzsche are some of my favorites.

One post I’ve found so far that does it the right way:
2012. Hard Lessons Learned.






2 responses to “2012 “Lessons””

  1. Matt Avatar

    Hey Ben,

    What’s the difference between a narrative that fits your experience, and a lesson?


    1. Ben Sima Avatar

      I’m talking specifically about the narrative fallacy. Let’s say you can’t learn a new language, buy your Portuguese friend easily picks up German and French. You rationalize his language-learning ability by saying he’s foreign, knows 2 languages already (Portuguese & English), so he is more likely to be able to pick up new languages because he’s already multi-lingual. That’s not a lesson—that’s a narrative, an unreasonable rationalization that says nothing of causation. It works the same way for the Portuguese friend: he might say that, because he’s multi-lingual, he has some advantage when learning languages.

      In reality, he probably just has a better process for learning languages that he acquired by either learning English from a really good teacher, or just by chance. To figure out that process, you use reasoning from first principles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *