Why Nations Fail – Daron Acemoglu

51jelhw0zul-_sx324_bo1204203200_Why Nations Fail

(Recommend, Would Read Again )

The author presents an idea and then spends 500 pages defending that idea through various historical examples, from all over the world. Overall, the book is interesting and at times very entertaining, however, it quickly becomes repetitive as the author keeps hitting us in the face with the same idea all over and over again.



“THE REACTION TO LEE’S brilliant invention illustrates a key idea of this book. The fear of creative destruction is the main reason why there was no sustained increase in living standards between the Neolithic and Industrial revolutions. Technological innovation makes human societies prosperous, but also involves the replacement of the old with the new, and the destruction of the economic privileges and political power of certain people. For sustained economic growth we need new technologies, new ways of doing things, and more often than not they will come from newcomers such as Lee. It may make society prosperous, but the process of creative destruction that it initiates threatens the livelihood of those who work with old technologies, such as the hand-knitters who would have found themselves unemployed by Lee’s technology. More important, major innovations such as Lee’s stocking frame machine also threaten to reshape political power. Ultimately it was not concern about the fate of those who might become unemployed as a result of Lee’s machine that led Elizabeth I and James I to oppose his patent; it was their fear that they would become political losers—their concern that those displaced by the invention would create political instability and threaten their own power.”


Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! -Richard P. Feynman

surelySurely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

(Would not read again)

What I got from this book is that Feynman was a bit of a narcissist and definitely a dick. He has some very good points on education and how flawed the system is.

There are definitely some entertaining bits in the book and value to be extracted. However, the feeling I get from this book is Feynman bragging to everyone how awesome he is.


“When I came out of the hypnosis and looked at the back of my hand, I got the biggest surprise: There was a burn on the back of my hand. Soon a blister grew, and it never hurt at all, even when it broke. So I found hypnosis to be a very interesting experience. All the time you’re saying to yourself, “I could do that, but I won’t”—which is just another way of saying that you can’t.”


” I’ve very often made mistakes in my physics by thinking the theory isn’t as good as it really is, thinking that there are lots of complications that are going to spoil it—an attitude that anything can happen, in spite of what you’re pretty sure should happen.”

“Then there was John Von Neumann, the great mathematician. We used to go for walks on Sunday. We’d walk in the canyons, often with Bethe and Bob Bacher. It was a great pleasure. And Von Neumann gave me an interesting idea: that you don’t have to be responsible for the world that you’re in. So I have developed a very powerful sense of social irresponsibility as a result of Von Neumann’s advice. It’s made me a very happy man ever since. But it was Von Neumann who put the seed in that grew into my active irresponsibility!”


“And then I thought to myself, “You know, what they think of you is so fantastic, it’s impossible to live up to it. You have no responsibility to live up to it!” It was a brilliant idea: You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing. It wasn’t a failure on my part that the Institute for Advanced Study expected me to be that good; it was impossible.”

“Hah!” I say. “There’s no importance whatsoever. I’m just doing it for the fun of it.” His reaction didn’t discourage me; I had made up my mind I was going to enjoy physics and do whatever I liked. I went on to work out equations of wobbles. Then I thought about how electron orbits start to move in relativity. Then there’s the Dirac Equation in electrodynamics. And then quantum electrodynamics. And before I knew it (it was a very short time) I was “playing”—working, really—with the same old problem that I loved so much, that I had stopped working on when I went to Los Alamos: my thesis-type problems; all those old-fashioned, wonderful things. It was effortless. It was easy to play with these things. It was like uncorking a bottle: Everything flowed out effortlessly. I almost tried to resist it! There was no importance to what I was doing, but ultimately there was. The diagrams and the whole business that I got the Nobel Prize for came from that piddling around with the wobbling plate.


” Now, what about the lessons?” “OK,” he says. “The whole principle is this: The guy wants to be a gentleman. He doesn’t want to be thought of as impolite, crude, or especially a cheapskate. As long as the girl knows the guy’s motives so well, it’s easy to steer him in the direction she wants him to go. “Therefore,” he continued, “under no circumstances be a gentleman! You must disrespect the girls. Furthermore, the very first rule is, don’t buy a girl anything—not even a package of cigarettes—until you’ve asked her if she’ll sleep with you, and you’re convinced that she will, and that she’s not lying.” “Uh…you mean…you don’t…uh…you just ask them?” “OK,” he says, “I know this is your first lesson, and it may be hard for you to be so blunt. So you might buy her one thing—just one little something—before you ask. But on the other hand, it will only make it more difficult.” Well, someone only has to give me the principle, and I get the idea. All during the next day I built up my psychology differently: I adopted the attitude that those bar girls are all bitches, that they aren’t worth anything, and all they’re in there for is to get you to buy them a drink, and they’re not going to give you a goddamn thing; I’m not going to be a gentleman to such worthless bitches, and so on. I learned it till it was automatic. Then that night I was ready to try it out. I go into the bar as usual, and right away my friend says, “Hey, Dick! Wait’ll you see the girl I got tonight! She had to go change her clothes, but she’s coming right back.” “Yeah, yeah,” I say, unimpressed, and I sit at another table to watch the show. My friend’s girl comes in just as the show starts, and I’m thinking, “I don’t give a damn how pretty she is; all she’s doing is getting him to buy her drinks, and she’s going to give him nothing!” After the first act my friend says, “Hey, Dick! I want you to meet Ann. Ann, this is a good friend of mine, Dick Feynman.” I say “Hi” and keep looking at the show. A few moments later Ann says to me, “Why don’t you come and sit at the table here with us?” I think to myself, “Typical bitch: he’s buying her drinks, and she’s inviting somebody else to the table.” I say, “I can see fine from here.” A little while later a lieutenant from the military base nearby comes in, dressed in a nice uniform. It isn’t long before we notice that Ann is sitting over on the other side of the bar with the lieutenant! Later that evening I’m sitting at the bar, Ann is dancing with the lieutenant, and when the lieutenant’s back is toward me and she’s facing me, she smiles very pleasantly to me. I think again, “Some bitch! Now she’s doing this trick on the lieutenant even!” Then I get a good idea: I don’t look at her until the lieutenant can also see me, and then I smile back at her, so the lieutenant will know what’s going on. So her trick didn’t work for long. A few minutes later she’s not with the lieutenant any more, but asking the bartender for her coat and handbag, saying in a loud, obvious voice, “I’d like to go for a walk. Does anybody want to go for a walk with me?” I think to myself, “You can keep saying no and pushing them off, but you can’t do it permanently, or you won’t get anywhere. There comes a time when you have to go along.” So I say coolly, “I’ll walk with you.” So we go out. We walk down the street a few blocks and see a café, and she says, “I’ve got an idea—let’s get some coffee and sandwiches, and go over to my place and eat them.” The idea sounds pretty good, so we go into the café and she orders three coffees and three sandwiches and I pay for them. As we’re going out of the café, I think to myself, “Something’s wrong: too many sandwiches!” On the way to her motel she says, “You know, I won’t have time to eat these sandwiches with you, because a lieutenant is coming over…” I think to myself, “See, I flunked. The master gave me a lesson on what to do, and I flunked. I bought her $1.10 worth of sandwiches, and hadn’t asked her anything, and now I know I’m gonna get nothing! I have to recover, if only for the pride of my teacher.” I stop suddenly and I say to her, “You…are worse than a WHORE!” “Whaddya mean?” “You got me to buy these sandwiches, and what am I going to get for it? Nothing!” “Well, you cheapskate!” she says. “If that’s the way you feel, I’ll pay you back for the sandwiches!” I called her bluff: “Pay me back, then.” She was astonished. She reached into her pocketbook, took out the little bit of money that she had and gave it to me. I took my sandwich and coffee and went off. After I was through eating, I went back to the bar to report to the master. I explained everything, and told him I was sorry that I flunked, but I tried to recover. He said very calmly, “It’s OK, Dick; it’s all right. Since you ended up not buying her anything, she’s gonna sleep with you tonight.” “What?” “That’s right,” he said confidently; “she’s gonna sleep with you. I know that.” “But she isn’t even here! She’s at her place with the lieu—” “It’s all right.” Two o’clock comes around, the bar closes, and Ann hasn’t appeared. I ask the master and his wife if I can come over to their place again. They say sure. Just as we’re coming out of the bar, here comes Ann, running across Route 66 toward me. She puts her arm in mine, and says, “Come on, let’s go over to my place.” The master was right. So the lesson was terrific! When I was back at Cornell in the fall, I was dancing with the sister of a grad student, who was visiting from Virginia. She was very nice, and suddenly I got this idea: “Let’s go to a bar and have a drink,” I said. On the way to the bar I was working up nerve to try the master’s lesson on an ordinary girl. After all, you don’t feel so bad disrespecting a bar girl who’s trying to get you to buy her drinks—but a nice, ordinary, Southern girl? We went into the bar, and before I sat down, I said, “Listen, before I buy you a drink, I want to know one thing: Will you sleep with me tonight?” “Yes.” So it worked even with an ordinary girl! But no matter how effective the lesson was, I never really used it after that. I didn’t enjoy doing it that way. But it was interesting to know that things worked much differently from how I was brought up.”  – Please don’t try to imitate that behavior


“I thought then about the witch doctors, and how easy it would have been to check on them by noticing that nothing really worked. So I found things that even more people believe, such as that we have some knowledge of how to educate. There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you’ll see the reading scores keep going down—or hardly going up—in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods. There’s a witch doctor remedy that doesn’t work. It ought to be looked into; how do they know that their method should work? Another example is how to treat criminals. We obviously have made no progress—lots of theory, but no progress—in decreasing the amount of crime by the method that we use to handle criminals.”

On Becoming A Leader – Warren Bennis


On Becoming a Leader


Usually I don’t expect much from this type of books. On this occasion, however, I was pleasantly surprised.

  • Have a purpose, passion, integrity, negative capability 
  • Shape yourself, rather than be shaped
  • Actively seek out new and uncomfortable experiences
  • View fear as a motivator that pushes you in the direction where growth lies
  • Be aware of the lenses you see the world through and change them if you don’t like what you see
  • Travel extensively, read a lot of books (How do I travel when I work all the time? Does a week on Palma even count as travelling?)



So let’s see if I cover the checklist:

What is my purpose? To become a strong person, to be well educated, able to understand the world and eventually to shape it for the better.

Do I actively seek out new and uncomfortable experiences? I would say no. A lot of the times it is sheer apathy that prevents me from getting new experiences. ” Can I really be bothered to do that? What is the point? ”

My greatest problem with fear is not what follows, it is the effect that fear has on my body and mind that scares me. It prevents me from being myself and think clearlyt. I am getting better at handling it, though… Meditation… Also, focusing on the emotions of the people around you until you forget about yourself and your fears seems to do the trick.

Am I mindful of how I perceive the world around me? Not really… I satisfy myself with the fist explanation that my brain / social conditioning provides. It is another area that needs improvement. Reframe, reframe, reframe…


1817, poet John Keats wrote in a letter to his brothers that the basis for real achievement was “negative capability … when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason. ” There’s probably no better definition of a contemporary leader than that.  (True Detective, anyone?)

I think getting up in the morning is more exciting when you’re nervous. If you’re not nervous, you’re dead…. It’s time to change your life or your work the moment you stop having butterflies in your stomach.

The first basic ingredient of leadership is a guiding vision. The leader has a clear idea of what he or she wants to do—professionally and personally—and the strength to persist in the face of setbacks, even failures.

The second basic ingredient of leadership is passion—the underlying passion for the promises of life, combined with a very particular passion for a vocation, a profession, a course of action. The leader loves what he or she does and loves doing it. Tolstoy said that hopes are the dreams of the waking man. Without hope, we cannot survive, much less progress. The leader who communicates passion gives hope and inspiration to other people.

The next basic ingredient of leadership is integrity. I think there are three essential parts of integrity: self-knowledge, candor, and maturity.“Know thyself,” was the inscription over the Oracle at Delphi. And it is still the most difficult task any of us faces. But until you truly know yourself, strengths and weaknesses, know what you want to do and why you want to do it, you cannot succeed in any but the most superficial sense of the word. Leaders never lie to themselves, especially about themselves, know their faults as well as their assets, and deal with them directly. You are your own raw material.

When you know what you consist of and what you want to make of it, then you can invent yourself. Candor is the key to self-knowledge. Candor is based in honesty of thought and action, a steadfast devotion to principle, and a fundamental soundness and wholeness.

As presidents, Johnson, Nixon, and Carter were all more driven than driving, and each seemed trapped in his own shadows. They were haunted men, shaped more by their early deprivations than by their later successes. They did not, then, invent themselves. They were made—and unmade—by their own histories.

When Henry Kissinger was asked what he had learned from the presidents he had worked with—a list that started with Kennedy, through whom he met Truman—Kissinger replied, “Presidents don’t do great things by dwelling on their limitations, but by focusing on their possibilities. ” They leave the past behind them and turn toward the future.


Former Lucky Stores CEO Don Ritchey said, on the need for being oneself, “I believe people spot phonies in very short order, whether that be on an individual basis or a company basis. As Emerson says, ‘What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say’.

…have often thought that the best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensively active and alive. At such moments, there is a voice inside which speaks and says, “This is the real me”.

…managers’ descriptions were “surprisingly congruous…. Learning is experienced as a personal transformation. A person does not gather learnings as possessions but rather becomes a new person…. To learn is not to have, it is to be. – some powerful stuff right there

In our discussion, I suggested that this kind of learning has to do with reflecting on experience. Kaplan said, “I would add a component to that, which is the appetite to have experience, because people can be experience averse and therefore not learn. Unless you have the appetite to absorb new and potentially unsettling things, you don’t learn…. Part of it is temperament. It’s a kind of fearlessness and optimism and confidence, and you’re not afraid of failure.

Clearly, to become a true leader, one must know the world as well as one knows one’s self. A variety of studies, as well as the lives of the leaders I talked with, demonstrates that certain kinds of experiences are especially significant for learning. These experiences include broad and continuing education, idiosyncratic families, extensive travel and/or exile, a rich private life, and key associations with mentors and groups.

Now a professor of constitutional law at American University, Jamie Raskin was an assistant attorney general in Boston when he warned against letting your ambition get in the way of your intellectual growth: “‘Ambition is the death of thought,’ as Wittgenstein said. A number of my friends are as ambitious as I am, but they suppress any thoughts that might be subversive or dangerous to their ambitions. Your intellectual life is really the ability to see how things can be different, and big institutions in society, whether public or private, often ask people to toe the line in any number of ways—personal, political, ideological. And clearly one can get ahead by doing that. I guess the only way to prevent ambition from killing your intellectual life is not to be afraid of losing, or to say something people might think is wrong, or crazy, something the institution isn’t ready to hear yet…. If you want a concrete tip, learn how to speed read. People say they don’t have time to read. My feeling is, ‘When in doubt, read it. ’ I can read a book in a couple of hours. ” – I am very much against speed reading good books. It just does not have the same impact on you.

The stranger in a strange land sees more and sees fresh. Being on the road not only requires the full deployment of one’s self, it redeploys one, tests one’s strengths and weaknesses, and exposes new strengths and weaknesses. Our two most sophisticated Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were inveterate travelers, and both spent much time in Europe. Those who travel farther from home learn even more.

Life has never been simple and is growing more complex all the time, yet we persist in attempting to reduce it to bumpersticker dimensions. The advocates of simplicity see reality as mechanical, static, segmented, and rational, when it is, in fact, organic, dynamic, whole, and ambiguous. They see relationships as linear, sequential and serial, discrete, singular and independent, when they are, in fact, parallel and simultaneous, connected, murky, multiple and interdependent. They are determinists, believers in cause-and-effect, when, in fact, probability is the rule and the inevitable hardly ever happens. They wear square hats, when they should try sombreros.

No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their lives, expressing themselves fully. When that expression is of value, they become leaders. So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely—all your skills, gifts, and energies—in order to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming.

Whatever it is you want to do, you shouldn’t let fear get in your way. Fear, for most leaders, is less a crippler than a motivator. As Brooke Knapp said, “I started flying because I was afraid of it. If you give not 90 percent or 95 percent but 100 percent, you can make anything happen. The greatest opportunity for growth lies in overcoming things you’re afraid of. ” She went on to become one of America’s leading flyers.

The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse. ” Unless you are willing to take risks, you will suffer paralyzing inhibitions, and you will never do what you are capable of doing.Mistakes—missteps—are necessary for actualizing your vision, and necessary steps toward success.

Part of the trick is not creating situations where you’re inviting contests of egos. And oddly enough, the more willing you seem to be to let people participate, the less need they have to force participation. It’s the threat of being left out that exacerbates their ego problems and creates clashes.

Jacob Bronowski wrote, in The Ascent of Man, “We have to understand that the world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation…. The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well and, having done it well, he loves to do it better

Korn/Ferry International co-founder Richard Ferry belongs to what might be called the throw-them-into-the-water-andthey’ll-learn-to-swim school: “You can’t really create leaders. How do you teach people to make decisions, for example? All you can do is develop the talents people have. I’m a great believer in trial by fire, on-the-job experience. Put them out there in the plants, put them in the markets, send them to Japan and Europe. Train them on the job. ” Jim Burke and Horace Deets were succinct. Burke said, “The more experience and the more tests you survive, the more apt you are to be a good leader. ” Deets, speaking of his job as executive director of the American Association of Retired Persons, said, “It’s a tough job and, I would wager, can only be learned by experience. You can’t learn it by reading up on it, you’ve got to do it. The only real laboratory is the laboratory of leadership itself.

Everywhere you trip is where the treasure lies. ” Everywhere you trip is where the treasure lies. That’s learning from surprise, as well as adversity. Virtually every leader I talked with would agree

Ernest Hemingway said that the world breaks all of us, and we grow stronger in the broken places

This brings me to what I think of as the Wallenda Factor, a concept I described in detail in Leaders and so will recap only briefly here. Shortly after the great aerialist Karl Wallenda fell to his death in 1978 while doing his most dangerous walk, his wife, also an aerialist, said, “All Karl thought about for months before was falling. It was the first time he’d ever thought about that, and it seemed to me that he put all his energies into not falling rather than walking the tightrope. ” If we think more about failing at what we’re doing than about doing it, we will not succeed

Empathy isn’t simply the province of artists. Former Lucky Stores CEO Don Ritchey said, “I think one of the biggest turn-ons is for people to know that their peers and particularly their bosses not only know they’re there but know pretty intimately what they’re doing and are involved with them on almost a daily basis, that it’s a partnership, that you’re really trying to run this thing well together, that if something goes wrong our goal is to fix it…

I always took a little more time, told people more than they needed to know…. You have to be absolutely straight with people, not clever or cute, and you can’t think that you can manipulate them. That doesn’t mean you have to think they’re all stars or that you have to agree with everything they do, but the relationship, I think, ought to be for real.

What does it mean to go from an industrial age to an information age? Beyond the ways we have to change as leaders and managers within the context of our enterprise, the world itself is changing, becoming more idea-intensive, more information-intensive, so the people who’re going to surface, to rise to the top, are going to be people who are comfortable with and excited by ideas and information.

I think the first thing one has to do [in setting out to change a culture] is get people on one’s side and show them where you want to take the company. Trust is vital. People trust you when you don’t play games with them, when you put everything on the table and speak honestly to them. Even if you aren’t very articulate, your intellectual honesty comes through, and people recognize that and respond positively.

These leaders have dealt with and continue to deal with this mercurial world by anticipating, looking not just down the road, but around the corner; by seeing change as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle; and by accepting it, rather than resisting it. One of the hardest lessons any novice skier has to learn is to lean away from the hill and not into it. The natural inclination is to stay as close to the slope as possible, because it feels safer and more secure. But only when the skier leans out can he or she begin to move and gain control, rather than being controlled by the slope. The organizational novice does the same thing: leans close to the company’s slope, submerging his or her own identity in that of the corporation. The leader stands tall and leans out, taking charge of his or her own course, with a clear view of where the course is going—at least until the snow starts to fall. Resisting change is as futile as resisting weather, and change—relentless change—is our weather now. It is that constant and that unpredictable. Leaders live in it, and so do organizations. And there is much organizations can do to make the process easier.

Common Cause founder John Gardner once said that leaders are people who understand the prevailing culture, even though much of the culture is latent, existing only in people’s minds and dreams, or in their unconscious. But understanding is only the first step. The leaders of the future will be those who take the next step— to change the culture. To reprise Kurt Lewin, it is through changing something that one truly comes to understand.

Max De Pree, in Leadership Is an Art, wrote, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.

What managers expect of their subordinates and the way they treat them largely determine their performance and career progress. A unique characteristic of superior managers is the ability to create high performance expectations that subordinates fulfill. • Less effective managers fail to develop similar expectations, and as a consequence, the productivity of their subordinates suffers.

Subordinates, more often than not, appear to do what they believe they are expected to do. Leaders expect the best of the people around them. Leaders know that the people around them change and grow. If you expect great things, your associates will give them to you. Jaime Escalante believed that students in a Los Angeles inner-city high school could learn calculus. And they did. At the same time, leaders are realistic about expectations. Their motto is: stretch, don’t strain. Pretend you’re training for the Olympics, where easy does it. If you pull a muscle in today’s game, you sit on the bench for tomorrow’s.





A Mind For Numbers – Barbara Oakley

51i6goh83yl-_sy344_bo1204203200_A Mind For Numbers


There are some very good practical tips in this book. It’s a short and quick read, so please read it, or give it to your kids to read.

Learning How to Learn (Coursera MOOC)

Ted Talk

  • Actively try to recall the material that you are trying to learn.
  • Learning takes time. Intensive focus, followed by relaxed thinking are best for fully understanding the ideas.
  • Rest is crucial for learning


We don’t engage in passive rereading because we are dumb or lazy. We do it because we fall prey to a cognitive illusion. When we read material over and over, the material becomes familiar and fluent, meaning it is easy for our minds to process. We then think that this easy processing is a sign that we have learned something well, even though we have not.

If you are trying to understand or figure out something new, your best bet is to turn off your precision-focused thinking and turn on your “big picture” diffuse mode, long enough to be able to latch on to a new, more fruitful approach.

The harder you push your brain to come up with something creative, the less creative your ideas will be. So far, I have not found a single situation where this does not apply. Ultimately, this means that relaxation is an important part of hard work—and good work, for that matter.”

In other words, just using your diffuse mode doesn’t mean you can lollygag around and expect to get anywhere. As the days and weeks pass, it’s the distributed practice—the back and forth between focused-mode attention and diffuse-mode relaxation—that does the trick.

That said, it’s important to realize that just understanding how a problem was solved does not necessarily create a chunk that you can easily call to mind later.


Attempting to recall the material you are trying to learn—retrieval practice—is far more effective than simply rereading the material.


“Intention to learn is helpful only if it leads to the use of good learning strategies.”


Using recall—mental retrieval of the key ideas—rather than passive rereading will make your study time more focused and effective.


“Getting a concept in class versus being able to apply it to a genuine physical problem is the difference between a simple student and a full-blown scientist or engineer. The only way I know of to make that jump is to work with the concept until it becomes second nature, so you can begin to use it like a tool.”

You must have information persisting in your memory if you are to master the material well enough to do well on tests and think creatively with it.



In building a chunked library, you are training your brain to recognize not only a specific problem, but different types ˙and classes of problems so that you can automatically know how to quickly solve whatever you encounter. You’ll start to see patterns that simplify problem solving for you and will soon find that different solution techniques are lurking at the edge of your memory. Before midterms or finals, it is easy to brush up and have these solutions at the mental ready.


“Mathematics is amazingly compressible: you may struggle a long time, step by step, to work through the same process or idea from several approaches. But once you really understand it and have the mental perspective to see it as a whole, there is often a tremendous mental compression. You can file it away, recall it quickly and completely when you need it, and use it as just one step in some other mental process. The insight that goes with this compression is one of the real joys of mathematics.”

This reinforces an idea we’ve alluded to already. When we retrieve knowledge, we’re not being mindless robots—the retrieval process itself enhances deep learning and helps us begin forming chunks.


But be wary of repetitive overlearning during a single session in math and science learning—research has shown it can be a waste of valuable learning time.Revisiting the approach mixed with other approaches during a subsequent study session, however, is just fine.


You want your brain to become used to the idea that just knowing how to use a particular problem-solving technique isn’t enough—you also need to know when to use it.

Paul’s Techniques for Limited Study Time 1. Read (but don’t yet solve) assigned homework and practice exams/quizzes. With this initial step I prime my mental pump for learning new concepts—new chunks. 2. Review lecture notes (attend every lecture as much as possible). One hour of lecture is worth two hours reading the book. I learn far more efficiently if I am faithful in attending lectures and taking detailed notes—not just staring at my watch and waiting for it to be over. I review my notes the following day while the subjects are still fresh in my mind. I’ve also found that thirty minutes with a professor asking questions is easily worth three hours reading the book. 3. Rework example problems presented in lecture notes. It never helped me to practice problems given by either the instructor or the textbook that didn’t have solutions to provide feedback. With the example problems I already had a step-by-step solution available if necessary. Reworking helps solidify chunks. I use different-colored pens when I study: blue, green, red—not just black. I found that it helps me focus on reading my notes better; things pop out more, instead of blending together into a confusing collage of inexplicable mathematical chaos on the page. 4. Work assigned homework and practice exam/quiz questions. This builds “muscle memory” chunks for the mind in solving certain types of problems.

Do you like to check your e-mail or Facebook right when you wake up in the morning? Set a timer for ten minutes of work first thing instead—then reward yourself with online time. You will be surprised to see that this tiny exercise in self-control will help empower you over your zombies through the day. Warning: When you first sit down to try this, some of your zombies will scream as if they want to eat your brain. Tune them out! Part of the point of this exercise is learning to laugh at your zombies’ antics as they predictably tell you, “Just this once it’s okay to check Facebook right now.”

Remember, Lady Luck favors the one who tries. So don’t feel overwhelmed with everything you need to learn about a new subject. Instead, focus on nailing down a few key ideas. You’ll be surprised at how much that simple framework can help.

Remember, research has shown that the more effort you put into recalling material, the deeper it embeds itself into your memory.


This type of “knowledge collapse” seems to occur when your mind is restructuring its understanding—building a more solid foundation. In the case of language learners, they experience occasional periods when the foreign language suddenly seems as comprehensible as Klingon. Remember—it takes time to assimilate new knowledge. You will go through some periods when you seem to take an exasperating step backward in your understanding. This a natural phenomenon that means your mind is wrestling deeply with the material. You’ll find that when you emerge from these periods of temporary frustration, your knowledge base will take a surprising step forward.


“A curious peculiarity of our memory is that things are impressed better by active than by passive repetition. I mean that in learning by heart (for example), when we almost know the piece, it pays better to wait and recollect by an effort from within, than to look at the book again. If we recover the words in the former way, we shall probably know them the next time; if in the latter way, we shall very likely need the book once more.”

“I did not go to an elite school when I was growing up. In fact, my school was below average—we didn’t have the proper teachers for many subjects. But I focused on finding something good in whatever teachers came my way, whether it was an excellent memory or simply an easy smile. This kind of positive attitude helped me appreciate my teachers and keep an open-minded approach toward my classes.


“One of my mother’s Golden Rules was that ‘writing is the foundation of learning.’ From grade school through doctoral studies, I have found immense power in systematically understanding and writing each step of what I really wanted to learn.

But once you make a task list, it frees working memory for problem solving. Yay! But remember, you must absolutely trust that you will check your planner-journal. If your subconscious doesn’t trust you to do that, tasks will begin swirling back up, blocking your working memory.

THE FREEDOM OF A SCHEDULE “To combat procrastination, I make a schedule of everything I have to do. For example, I tell myself, ‘Friday, I need to start my paper and then finish it on Saturday. Also, on Saturday, I need to do my math homework. On Sunday, I need to study for my German test.’ It really helps me stay organized and practically stress-free. If I don’t follow my schedule, then I have twice the amount of the work to do the next day, and that’s really not something I look forward to.”

You might think, Well, yeah, but you’re a professor who is past your youthful study days—of course an early quitting time is fine for you! However, one of my most admired study experts, Cal Newport, used a 5:00 P.M. quitting time through most of his student career. He ended up getting his Ph.D. from MIT. In other words, this method, implausible though it may seem for some, can work for undergraduate and graduate students in rigorous academic programs. Time after time, those who are committed to maintaining healthy leisure time along with their hard work outperform those who doggedly pursue an endless treadmill.




This approach works for some people, mostly because anything works for some people. Unfortunately, however, for most people it’s counterproductive. Tough problems often need lots of time, meaning you’d want to start on them first thing on a test. Difficult problems also scream for the creative powers of the diffuse mode. But to access the diffuse mode, you need to not be focusing on what you want so badly to solve!


Then when you start working problems, start first with what appears to be the hardest one. But steel yourself to pull away within the first minute or two if you get stuck or get a sense that you might not be on the right track. This does something exceptionally helpful. “Starting hard” loads the first, most difficult problem in mind, and then switches attention away from it. Both these activities can help allow the diffuse mode to begin its work.

To help keep his mind occupied when his workday ended and anxiety or boredom reared its head, Feynman began a focused effort to peer into people’s deepest, darkest secrets: He began figuring out how to open safes. By knowing the default settings, the locksmith was often able to slip into safes that had been left unchanged since they’d arrived from the manufacturer. Whereas everyone thought that safecracking wizardry was involved, it was a simple understanding of how the device arrived from the manufacturer that was fundamental.

Superforecasting – Philip Tetlock

Superforecasting – Philip Tetlock


(Recommend, Would not read again)

The book could be easily summarized in less than 20 pages, as it’s incredibly repetitive and tends to go off-topic at times. However, there are valuable insights that could be gained from it.

This book promises to teach its readers the skill of forecasting.


The key to success? Grit. (Ted Talk)

Forecasting has a limited range, however, that does not mean that is impossible or useless to make forecasts. You need to pick your fights wisely and choose topics where hard work is likely to pay off. The main point of the book is that you can’t be a good forecaster and improve your skills unless you have a way to measure the success of your forecasts. To be a good forecaster you need to have good numerical skills, reasonably high intelligence, to follow the news often and the strongest predictor of performance seems to be commitment to self-improvement.

Measure the success of your forecasts

“Humans are too quick to make up their minds and too slow to change them. Take a look at the history of medicine (bloodletting is a good example of a stupid practice) and its lack of statistics and experimental approach. We need to measure forecasts success, be willing to revise forecasts, learn from mistakes and be more scientific in making our forecasts. Don’t rely on intuition only.”

“The compulsion to explain arises with clocklike regularity every time a stock market closes and a journalist says something like ‘The Dow rose ninety-five points today on news that…’ A quick check will often reveal that the news that supposedly drove the market came out well after the market had risen… the journalist conjures a plausible story from whatever is at hand. The explanatory urge is mostly a good thing. Indeed, it is the propulsive force behind all human efforts to comprehend reality. The problem is that we move too fast from confusion and uncertainty to a clear and confident conclusion without spending any time in between.”

Set up a clear time frame of your forecasts and use specific language (66% chance of something to happen within the next 3 months).

Superforecasters’ mindset

The forecasting experiment showed that what made forecasters successful was how they thought. There are Big Idea thinkers who focus on one thing and there are thinkers that rely on many analytical tools and many ideas. The first group was always certain in their forecasts, second one was much more flexible. Foxes / Hedgehogs. Know many things / know only one big thing.

“Aggregate the judgments of many people who know a lot about lots of different things”

“Stepping outside ourselves and really getting a different view of reality is a struggle. But foxes are likelier to give it a try. Whether by virtue of temperament or habit or conscious effort, they tend to engage in the hard work of consulting other perspectives.”

“Need for cognition, openness to experience, cognitive reflection are predictors of forecasting success.”

“Active open-mindedness: People should take into consideration evidence that goes against their beliefs. It is more useful to pay attention to those who disagree with you than to pay attention to those who agree.”

“For superforecasters, beliefs are hypothesis to be tested, not treasures to be guarded.”

“Why me? When something unlikely and important happens it’s deeply human to ask ‘Why’?… The better a person is at forecasting the less likely is he to believe in faith.”

“Unpack the question into components. Distinguish as sharply as you can between the known and unknown and leave no assumptions unscrutinised. Adopt the outside view and put the problem into a comparative perspective that downplays its uniqueness and treats it as a special of a wider class of phenomena. Then adopt the inside view that plays up the uniqueness of the problem. Also explore the similarities and differences between your views and those of others – and play special attention to prediction markets and other methods of extracting wisdom from crowds. Synthesize all these different views into a single vision as acute as that of a dragonfly. Finally, express your judgment as precisely as you can, using a finely grained scale of probability.”

Be careful not to underreact or overreact to new information.

Growth mindset and grit. Practice, fail, learn from failure, and become better.

“Research shows that judgment calibrated in one context transfers poorly, if at all, to another. So if you were thinking of becoming a better political or business forecaster by playing bridge, forget it. Repetition and good feedback make a good forecaster.”

“Good forecasters are a perpetual beta, never complete, always changing their views.”

“Forecasters tend to be: cautious (nothing is certain), humble (reality is infinitely complex), nondeterministic, actively open-minded, intelligent and knowledgeable with a need for cognition, reflective, numerate, pragmatic, analytical, value diverse views, probabilistic, thoughtful updaters, good intuitive psychologists, growth mindest, grit. Strongest predictor appears to be belief updating and self-improvement, roughly 3 times as powerful predictor as intelligence.”

 ‘Victims of Groupthink’

“Members of any small cohesive group tent to maintain esprit de corps by unconsciously developing a number of shared illusions and related norms that interfere with critical thinking and reality testing. Good forecasters must be aware of how the people around them might affect their views.”

Top Tips

  • Focus on questions where your hard work is likely to pay off.
  • Break problems into smaller problems.
  • Strike the right balance between inside and outside views.
  • Strike the right balance between under and overreacting to evidence.
  • Look for the clashing causal force at work in each problem.

Letters From a Stoic – Seneca

51d6czvftcl-_sx326_bo1204203200_Letters From a Stoic

(Would not read again, Do not recommend)

This guy is the equivalent of a modern day hipster.

Spends a lot of the time hating on the roman equivalent of the Kardashians and their followers.

Is definitely influenced by Buddhist ideas.

His books feels like a collection of motivational quotes.


“YOU ask me to say what you should consider it particularly important to avoid. My answer is this: a mass crowd.”

” How can novelty of surroundings abroad and becoming acquainted with foreign scenes or cities be of any help? All that dashing about turns out to be quite futile. And if you want to know why all this running away cannot help you, the answer is simply this: you are running away in your own company. You have to lay aside the load on your spirit. Until you do that, nowhere will satisfy you”

“Regard him as loyal, and you will make him loyal. Some men’s fear of being deceived has taught people to deceive them; by their suspiciousness they give them the right to do the wrong thing by them. Why should I keep back anything when I’m with a friend? Why shouldn’t I imagine I’m alone when I’m in his company?”

“You must inevitably either hate or imitate the world. But the right thing is to shun both courses: you should neither become like the bad because they are many, nor be an enemy of the many because they are unlike you.”