What Do I Need to Know?

March 25, 2009 — 20 Comments

I forgot that I said this but a long time ago I wrote that The Long Tail was a theory you HAD to be familiar with. Someone else asked what other theories should be required knowledge for young people. I can only answer what works for me, but I’ll give it a shot.

You should know Alinsky’s strategies for community organizing, John Robb’s theory of networked, guerrilla warfare, what Matt Mason calls “the Pirate’s dilemma”, the concept of a “blue oceans” Wikinomics (specifically, ideagoras or information bazaars) and I like Rob Walker’s “murketing.” You could also make the case that a healthy understanding of how hustlers create advantage, as compared to normal entrepreneurs, is increasingly important.

A couple others I might add, would be Snark (not the book, read this article) and narcissism/narrative fallacy, for the reason that they both derail and delude a lot of people online.

You could read all the books and I’ve linked to them before but thought it might be interesting if I tried to define all of them over the next few weeks. We could put it together into some kind of introduction for beginners. Your thoughts and input are welcome below.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

20 responses to What Do I Need to Know?

  1. Ryan, I think this is a great idea. My favorite post of yours are the ones where you break down or at least address a more complicated topic… this is right up your alley. I’m looking forward to seeing what you produce.

  2. I’m not sure if Taleb coined the phrase or not, but Black Swan is a really good introduction to the narrative fallacy. You highlight it here a lot, and it really is one thing that you see popping up everywhere once you’re aware of it.

    Here’s a good passage from the book:

    “To view the potency of narrative, consider the following statement: “The king died and the queen died.” Compare it to “The king died, and then the queen died of grief.” This exercise, presented by the novelist E. M. Forster, shows the distinction between mere succession of information and a plot. But notice the hitch here: although we added information to the second statement, we effectively reduced the dimension of the total. The second sentence is, in a way, much lighter to carry and easier to remember; we now have one single piece of information in place of two. As we can remember it with less effort, we can sell it to others, that is, market it as a better packaged idea. This, in a nutshell, is the definition and function of a narrative.”

  3. As a college student pressed for reading time, I think this is an excellent idea.

  4. I think posts on Dubnar’s Number/Group Dynamics by Christopher Allen are also a required reading for anyone looking to work with teams.

  5. Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints

    (how I realized I could completely outsource my TechCrunch internship)

  6. I’d definitely be interested in hearing more about what you have to say about the mentality and strategy of hustling. It’s something I’m still not entirely clear on, other than knowing that Gary Vaynerchuk uses the word a LOT.

  7. I’m not familiar with most of these concepts, but they seem closely related to marketing and social networking (by that I don’t mean facebook). It’s obvious why these are critical for you, given what (I think) your job is, but what’s your reasoning for them being necessary knowledge for all young people?

    I would add the theory of evolution to this list. It seems impossible to have a good understanding of the behaviors of people and organizations without knowing it, especially the ideas of adaptation and selection pressure.

  8. Singularity is an important one, especially in relation to Moore’s Law. It basically states that there will be a point in time where machines will improve themselves using their own AI.

    Kurzweil’s TED video and the Wikipedia entry on Singularity are good primers.

  9. I sent you the book that I took the notion of Relative Superiority from. Well, I sent it to Rudius. You can get it the next time you drop in the office I guess. As far as creating advantage for hustlers is concerned I believe it may offer some meaningful insights for you. If nothing else its a great read detailing the anatomy of how and why special operations missions work.

  10. @Dunbar’s #.

    I’m not sure how important that theory is to actually doing anything. People have a maximum capacity for the number of ‘others’ in their group?


    I would argue Gary Vaynorchuck is a salesman and not a hustler. He runs the family wine business, so much for coming from nothing.


    If you can make a reasonable argument for how you use or even think about that in your day to day life, I would be shocked.

    @social networking/marketing

    Not so much that but as to how and why the internet works. I’ll leave the other skill sets to other people.

  11. @hegemonicon

    “I would add the theory of evolution to this list. It seems impossible to have a good understanding of the behaviors of people and organizations without knowing it, especially the ideas of adaptation and selection pressure.”

    You don’t have to understand evolution to have a good understanding of the behaviors of people. The theory of evolution has only been around for about 150 years. Humans have been around for about 200,000. I’m sure there have been some in that time period that understood human behaviors well, long before the “The Selfish Gene.”

    Evolutionary psych is interesting, but a lot of it is unsubstantiated, and IMO is not a must-know.

  12. A singularity is just a limit. Ryan, a while back you talked about the nature of ideas and how they form and spread in a seamless cloud where one idea is relatively indistinguishable from another. In this case a new (modified) idea is a limit. After it’s reached new information can be extracted or assimilated from this new limit (singularity). Going from limit to limit or idea to idea is something we can choose to do for ourselves, until the robots take over.

  13. I think Aristotle’s Golden Mean as a heuristic for optimal living would be a solid addition to the list.


  14. @Ator,

    You’ve emailed me a few times now and I read your comments. I have to honestly ask you, do you read and comprehend what people write or do you just see keywords?

    I know what singularity is. But having a good understanding of doesn’t make anyone the slightest bit more capable in their day to day life.

  15. So many good ones now.

    – Sperm Wars: Best explanation of how Men and Women act and from a biological view why.

    – GapingVoid’s social object theory

    – Paul Graham’s money vs. wealth

    – Umair’s theory of DNA, and smart growth

    – Seth Godin’s marketing concepts.

    – Cialdini’s “Influence”

    – Cumulative Advantage

  16. I would like to hear your thoughts on Sperm Wars, Sex On The Brain, and the other evolutionary psychology titles you’ve read.

    Also, have you read any Thomas Sowell? I started Basic Economics and was impressed with his lucidity and knowledge of the topic and recall you mentioning one of his books a while back.

  17. I love them. They’re important if you’re a curious person but I don’t have too many thoughts beyond that. Definitely read them.

  18. A book–preferably an undergraduate level textbook–on geological processes or cosmology.

    This is the first thing I recommend whenever I get into a “what’s wrong with the world” discussion with anybody. Nothing takes human hubris down a peg like getting a glimpse of deep-time or a sense of the grand scale of space. It erases our phony sense of privilege and makes us appreciate how cosmically fortunate we are just to be drinking coffee in a (shitty) Starbucks, even if the wifi is down.

    We live our lives in the middle-sized world but we mainly ignore what happens in the realms of the very large and very small. I think everyone needs to recalibrate their scope of awareness.

  19. I know you have a lot of bookmarks, but if you set a tag for the articles you believe are essential or relevant to this discussion and then post the feed like on the right side of the page, that’d be oool. It’d be easier to use Delicious for an ongoing link dump than to list them in a single post.

  20. Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World” — it’s relevance to day to day life? The “Baloney Detection Kit”, a toolbox for critical thinkers.

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