The Interesting Times is a short digest of the most interesting things I find on the internet, typically centered around finance, tech, bitcoin, complex systems and decision making under opacity.
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"Dear Optimist and Pessimist, while you were busy debating over whether the glass was half-full or half-empty, I drank it. Signed the Opportunist."

The Interesting Times is a short digest of the most interesting things I find on the internet, typically centered around finance, tech, bitcoin, complex systems and decision making under opacity.
It's a weird time and if you have noticed yourself getting stressed or flustered (as I have), I want to offer a friendly reminder that there is a pretty high level of background stress and anxiety for everyone right now so cut everyone (including yourself) some slack. Most people are operating in good faith and trying their best.

I took a good chunk of this week to slow down and go through my quarterly review and planning process. I'm a little late, but I just wrapped up a big sprint for Mutiny Fund and so it seemed a natural point to step back and do some thinking. Though it always feels "expensive," my quarterly, weekly, and daily planning processes are some of the most productive times for me and help me to get focused on what really matters.

I also recorded a podcast with my friends Gabe Bassin and Erik Torenberg on Financial Markets and COVID. We discuss:

- The ins and outs of what each of the fed and treasury are doing at this time.
- The impacts of the pandemic on credit markets and pension systems.
- The disruptions to the demand side and the effects of possible supply-side disruptions.
- How the pandemic exacerbates inequality.
- The impact on Bitcoin and what this says about Austrian economics.
- Whether there’s a bubble in passive investing and the S&P 500 as a savings account.

I was looking for a screenshot+annotation tool and got a bunch of good suggestions. Currently trying out Cleanshot and seems promising so far.

Thought Bubble:

Last week, I wrote about Jospeph Campbell's idea of the Hero's Journey.

There are three major stages of the hero’s journey:
  • The Departure Act: the Hero leaves the Ordinary World.
  • The Initiation Act: the Hero ventures into unknown territory (the " Special World ") and is birthed into a true champion through various trials and challenges.
  • The Return Act: the Hero returns in triumph.

From the Bible to the Bhagavad Gita to the myths of the Native American tribes, this structure shows up time and time again

If you're interested in reading Campbell's work, I recommend starting with The Power of Myth and then The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Unlike many academics, I've found Campbell's work deeply personal.

In Campbell's view, myths serve as a guide to metaphorical truths around what it means to live a good life. We love a well-told story because we see a piece of ourselves in it.

The lesson of the hero's journey is that we all have a hero role to play, be it as a colleague, boss, parent, or friend. What exactly that role is for you is a deeply personal question and a constantly evolving one.

To live a life without regret means heeding the call to adventure, and being willing to strike out into the unknown. The Departure Act always precedes the transformation. That can be an external journey, changing jobs or moving cities, or and an internal one.

To me, a successful career is one in which an individual consistently heeded the call to adventure and was willing to take risks to find their product/market/person fit.

I think we tend to think of our careers and our work in primarily economic terms. Does this job pay better? are the benefits good?

This is, of course, important. To quote the inimitable comedian Bill Hicks, "Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy a jet ski. And you never see an unhappy person riding a jet ski."

But, I think it is equally valid to think about career decisions in hero's journey terms. Your career is a hero's journey and starting a business or taking a chance is not just an economic decision but one that involves a sense of meaning and self-worth.

To refuse the call is to be mired in self-loathing and discontent. To accept the call is to acknowledge the fear and to act in spite of it.

To forever refuse the call is a terrible state. It is an admission to one's self that all I know is all that there is to know, that you are not capable of further growth.

Creative exploration is impossible without acknowledging the unknown, without accepting the possibility of failure.

Five years ago next month, I published The End of Jobs, that related both the economic logic and the meaning components I had observed in many people who took seemingly big career risks.

I looked at why starting an internet business might be a good idea and why it was widely underestimated as a career opportunity.

Improvements in automation and outsourcing now affect not just blue collar workers, but white-collar ones.

A college degree is no longer the guarantee that it once was. Individuals that choose to become more entrepreneurial, rather than merely credentialed, have the greatest opportunities.

My argument was primarily couched not just in economic terms, but also around the notion of meaning.

From my own personal experience as well as friends, colleagues and readers, I've seen that making the entrepreneurial leap can be as much an existential choice as an economic one.

It is naive to think there is one right path to being more entrepreneurial for everyone, but for many, walking down the path can be deeply meaningful - whether that's starting a company, jumping into a new career, or moving to a new division

I believe what matters is answering whatever your call is at this point in time.

At the same time, I do think it is a correct view of the economic reality that everyone should strive to be more entrepreneurial in some way or another.

This is not a particularly novel idea. 50 years ago, the great management thinker Peter Drucker observed that there was a great transition in the nature of work to being more entrepreneurial:

"the chemist in the research laboratory who decides to follow one line of inquiry rather than another one may make the entrepreneurial decision that determines the future of his company. He may be the research director. But he also may be—and often is—a chemist with no managerial responsibilities, if not even a fairly junior man.

Similarly, the decision what to consider one "product" in the account books may be made by a senior vice-president in the company. It may also be made by a junior. And this holds true in all areas of today’s large organization."

While it is not a novel observation, it is still not a widely held one.

Traditional educational institutions rarely, if ever, teach entrepreneurial thinking, even though it is the largest differentiator in observed career outcomes that I have seen.

My goal with The End of Jobs as well as many of my essays and other writings has been to try and fill that gap.

If that resonates, I hope you'll give it a read. We've gone back to update the formatting for a more pleasant reading experience for the 5th-anniversary edition.
Best Stuff I Read
The Parable of the Talents
Scott Alexander

Thoughtful reflection on talent or lack thereof.

I always like thinking of it as "how can I be more like myself"

Kevin Kelly

Wonderful list of advice from Kevin Kelly.

My personal favorite: "Don’t be the best. Be the only"

The Fine Art of Opportunism
Venkatesh Rao

How to be more opportunistic:

1. Daydream more about stuff.
2. Focus on areas that are intersections of things you are good at.
3. When you find an interesting rabbit hole, go really deep.
4. When you realize it is high leverage, you have to go all in.

V-Shaped Recovery for Me, L-Shaped Recovery for Thee: The Aftermath
The Diff

A helpful analysis of the V-Shaped recovery narrative and how small companies and large companies may experience it very differently.

Books I Enjoyed
Beyond Good and Evil
Friedrich Nietzsche

I never quite know how to recommend Nietzsche. He's clearly got some asshole tendencies (particularly as it relates to talking about women), but at the same time, I consistently find him deeply in touch with modernity and insightful in a way no other philosopher is.

I think that is why I keep coming back to his work. In his famous commencement speech, David Foster Wallace tells the story of the fish in water:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How’s the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

Nietzsche's ability, perhaps linked with his propensity to kind of be a dick, was to point out some of the things around us which we see as water - so engrained in our reality as to be beyond question.

The idea which has had the biggest impact on me was the notion of good, bad, and evil. He introduces the notion in this book and expounds upon it in The Genealogy of Morals (FWIW, I would start with that book rather than this one). The basic idea is that from the point of view of the strong, the weak are "bad" and the strong are "good." Yet, from the point of view of the weak, the weak are "good" and the strong are "evil."

Nietzsche's work focuses on that tension and how it shows up in Western society. He was, in many ways, incredibly prescient with many of his statements ringing true over a century after they were first written.

If you're interested in exploring Nietzsche's thoughts, I would start with The Genealogy of Morals as mentioned above (and for all his books, I strongly prefer the Walter Kaufmann translations)


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