The Joys of Craigslist

November 1, 2008 — 12 Comments


This is the newest addition to my apartment. I put it in the window so the neighbors would see.

Thinking About Incentives

October 30, 2008 — 8 Comments

It’s counterproductive to threaten someone until you determine their incentives to refuse compliance.

In other words, what do I gain by refusing to remove them? Nothing. In fact, it’s in my readers’ best interest to make it accurate or remove it. Threatening me with Darth Vader-speak like “compel compliance with [our] demand” just pisses people off, and I could have still been a strong proponent of theirs. Too bad –

How Not to Use a Lawyer, by Tim Ferriss

Tim is really a genius at boiling complicated things down to their core and then leveraging that knowledge to do something he wants. What he’s saying here about incentives though, I think, is really important. I’ve been very lucky in that for a long time people have let me shadow them without having the responsibility of having doing what they do.

They’d go Ryan, why is ____ doing that? What makes him act like _____ in meetings? What do you think about _____? And then usually I’d answer incorrectly and they’d explain it from some point of view that I hadn’t thought of. Very slowly, I realized they were giving me an eye for incentives. Tim’s example is exactly the reason why that’s so important.

Cesar Millan does this very well with dogs. First, he wants you to realize that there is no such thing as a dog having a barking problem – dogs bark, you just don’t want them to. So then you figure out why the dog is doing it and then decide what you’d rather them do instead and what you have to motivate them to do that. What he does, basically, is take the energy that’s causing the first problem and turn it into the means for accomplishing an alternative.

Recently, I’ve been working on solving a Google Image Search problem – a search for the company/person negatively affects the company’s image which in turn trickles down into all aspects of the business profile. Because of problems in the past, the results show bad, outdated photos or worse, ones that are inaccurate. How do you change that?

First, you figure out what’s causing the problem. Why are people linking and using bad photos and why does Google favor them? Then, you decide which ones you’d rather show up. Shooting new photos and replacements and a new protocol. Lastly, you create a convincing reason for that new direction. How do you make it easier than using the old photos? And in this case you also have to decide how to get people to change out the old ones, so you start the cycle over again. Why did they choose the photo they did? How can it disappear? How can I make that want to do that?

Yesterday for the first time, a news reporter wrote a negative hack piece about the company, not even knowing that they were using the exact new photo I’d baited them into to taking. Energy, used against itself.

Not understanding incentives is to be worse than Sisyphus. It is a constant steam of failure, of turning blue in the in the face, of extra, unnecessary work. Then you die. When you’re trying to accomplish something that is dependent on other people’s actions, the only solution is to examine their incentives. Step back and examine what makes them act the way they do. Figure out their self-interest and many times, you won’t even need to do anything but explain how what you want is exactly that.

So think about incentives. Always. Your own. Theirs. Ours.

One Place For Your Priorities

October 23, 2008 — 13 Comments

Tucker has this unique ability to reflect on things that haven’t happened yet. It’s pretty subtle normally, but when you start to look for it, it sort of feels like that TV show where the guy gets tomorrow’s newspaper today and Tucker has already seen the article about himself.

At first, I would get so sucked in that I’d just take for granted that they already happened and be right there alongside him in that hypothetical world. Then, I started to notice it more and got angry, like it was dishonest or maybe delusional. Now, I’ve realized that it’s almost identical to something that I do which is to get a taste of an experience, extrapolate it to its end and then move on to the next lesson. I think that’s why I’ve been able to cram so much inside the last two years. I’m not so upset or judgmental about it anymore because, well now I think I get why I reacted that way.

This is the main tenet of stoicism, ultimately. That if you’re going to spend any time thinking about people’s actions, maybe you should start with your own.

An Exercise in Self-Reflection

October 19, 2008 — 9 Comments

Here’s an exercise:

You know when you read biographies of people long since dead and someone says something like “it’s interesting how kind he was to his employees but was so cruel to his relatives” and you think, man I wonder if they ever questioned themselves about that. Or you read memoirs and the person sort of casually mentions how it took them twenty years to realize they were a workaholic or half a decade to figure out that they hated their life and the other half digging themselves out of that impossible hole.

I think a good, but unending job is to endeavor so that no one ever questions something about your life that you haven’t already fully turned over in your head from every possible angle. That you should never realize something about yourself in some momentous epiphany because you’ve institutionalized incremental reflection. The role of a biography is not to work out the problems that you’ve been living every single day because in fact, that’s what every single day is for.

The exercise then is to consider what a stranger would think if the facts were all laid out on the table. What would they question? What have you missed? Finally, what can you do now that would cut off their assumptions–to answer their doubts with actions and avoid the surprise of a cliché?

What I’m Reading 10/15

October 15, 2008 — 14 Comments

In the middle of a research binge for Robert Greene. I’ve never read this many books in my life. 6 in one week was my previous record and yesterday finished my 10th since the previous Tuesday.

Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter by James Hirsch

Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson (reread)

The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry by Harold Bloom (looks at why poets write the way they do, has a premise that with the exception of Shakespeare, no poet has ever completely surpassed their predecessor)

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Socrates by A.E Taylor (short, very good. was Socrates the wisest because he knew that he knew nothing?)

American Courage by Herbert Warden (inaccurate, basic. might be worth it from the bargain section)

Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers (stopped halfway, decent)

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn (good, no reason it had to be so dense though)

The Big Sea: An Autobiography by Langston Hughes (spectacularly simple and well written)

My Life and Battles: By Jack Johnson (the boxer. great book)

American Legend: The Real-Life Adventures of David Crockett by Buddy Levy

Joe Louis, Man and Super-Fighter by Edward Van Every (Louis’s strategy in the ring is fantastic)

Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by Edward J. Renehan (‘always be an owner, never be a minion‘ too bad he was also crazy from syphilis)

The Camera My Mother Gave Me by Susanna Kaysen

Joe Louis as a Key Functionary: White Reactions Toward a Black Champion Evans, Art Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Sep., 1985) (great example of an academic completely missing the point)