Ciao! Welcome to this week's digest. This week is a very special "Challenger" edition, as we learn about the value of questioning in a variety of ways across our lives. A brief aside: It is funny to me that I believe there is tremendous benefit to be reaped from challenging 'conventional wisdom' across all realms of life... and yet I am still negatively reactive to the term 'contrarian thinking'. It feels too intentionally contrarian (i.e., in the same category as hipster), rather than utilitarianly contrarian. Is there less pejorative nomenclature? N=1 explorers? I dunno, first thought definitely not best thought ;D

Quick request for your feedback: There were a few pieces of content this week that were intriguing (in a shrug the shoulders, 'huh, interesting' kind of way), but they did not generate enough excitement to share with you in 'Best of What I Consumed This Week' or as a 'Topic of Interest' (e.g., this, this, this). Do you want links to this content? Is that distracting? Would I no longer be 'focusing on the core'?!? (and thus ostracized from the Bain alumni community ;D) Please let me know what you think!

This week's topics include contrarian thinking, productivity, disorder, and double-edged inner voices. Enjoy!

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"The prospect of being lonely but right—dedicating your life to something that no one else believes in—is already hard. The prospect of being lonely and wrong can be unbearable." ~ Peter Thiel
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (AKA I have a lot to learn from you), replying to Cannabidiol (CBD)
: A few hours after the last digest came out, I discovered that did a thorough write-up on CBD. Learn more from here"Why is CBD such a big deal? Two reasons. First, isolated CBD won't get you "high", unlike THC (the other main cannabinoid in cannabis). Second, isolated CBD has shown a ton of promise in animal research (anxiety, pain, inflammation, cancer, etc). Unfortunately, there are relatively few human trials as of 2019. And unregulated CBD often contains way lower or higher doses than the label states, sometimes even containing unlisted THC. Things are heating up though... nearly 190 trials are ongoing! Same takeaways, but backed by way more data ;D


BOOK - Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel (My full Kindle notes) - A classic, short, and fun read about contrarian thinking and technology start-ups from the lens of Peter Thiel, a 'definite optimist' and ardent capitalist. Peter has a variety of social stigmas attached to him, from blood boys to Trump support, largely stemming from contrarian thinking. He represents a shining example of the opportunity to learn from people with whom you disagree wholeheartedly on substantive matters.

One-Sentence Takeaway: Contrarian thinking and the dedicated search for truth proffer compelling opportunities to create new forms of abundance for the world.

Answering The Drucker Question: Answer for yourself Peter's famed question,  “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

Complement with Wait But Why: The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce by Tim Urban (TD Digest summary).

My highlights:
  • Whenever I Interview someone for a job, I like to ask this question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”... A good answer takes the following form: “Most people believe in x, but the truth is the opposite of x.”... If you can identify a delusional popular belief, you can find what lies hidden behind it: the contrarian truth... Conventional beliefs only ever come to appear arbitrary and wrong in retrospect; whenever one collapses, we call the old belief a bubble... The most contrarian thing of all is not to oppose the crowd but to think for yourself.
  • Higher education is the place where people who had big plans in high school get stuck in fierce rivalries with equally smart peers over conventional careers like management consulting and investment banking. For the privilege of being turned into conformists, students (or their families) pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in skyrocketing tuition that continues to outpace inflation. Why are we doing this to ourselves?
  • As a good rule of thumb, proprietary technology must be at least 10 times better than its closest substitute in some important dimension to lead to a real monopolistic advantage... The clearest way to make a 10x improvement is to invent something completely new.
  • To a definite optimist, the future will be better than the present if he plans and works to make it better. From the 17th century through the 1950s and ’60s, definite optimists led the Western world... To an indefinite optimist, the future will be better, but he doesn’t know how exactly, so he won’t make any specific plans. He expects to profit from the future but sees no reason to design it concretely.
  • People are scared of secrets because they are scared of being wrong. By definition, a secret hasn’t been vetted by the mainstream. If your goal is to never make a mistake in your life, you shouldn’t look for secrets... The prospect of being lonely but right—dedicating your life to something that no one else believes in—is already hard. The prospect of being lonely and wrong can be unbearable.

ARTICLE - First Round Review: Our 6 Must Reads for Honing Focus and Managing Your Time - An efficient summary piece sharing a variety of time and productivity management heuristics which are immediately actionable.

One-Sentence Takeaway: The key areas within our locus of control that we can manage for effectiveness gains are our energy, priorities, focus, and environment.

Answering The Drucker Question: Pick one of the 'must-reads' that resonates with you and deep-dive into their recommendations and next steps.

Complement with A Stoic’s Key to Living with Presence: Seneca on Balancing the Existential Calculus of Time Spent, Saved, and Wasted.

My highlights:
  • of the best tactics for prioritizing focused work is to pour more energy and attention into mastering the internal triggers that are sapping our concentration. In other words, before you can beat distraction, you need to understand where it’s coming from... Crowd out with curiosity. Be inquisitive — versus judgemental — about your internal triggers.
  • Triage your tasks into “rocks” and “sand.” If all of the big impactful things you need to do are rocks, then all the constant granular stuff is the sand, from email and less important meetings to one-off questions and messages on Slack...  “You can compromise on sand. You must not compromise on rocks.”
  • Most people know the core components of physical energy: enough sleeping, eating right, exercise. But the dropoff between the people who know these rules and those who follow them is massive. Preserving physical energy in high-stress environments is especially paramount, since stressors can threaten to burn your energy without you knowing it.
  • If possible, Verresen also recommends structuring times when people definitely can interrupt and interact with you. Scheduled one-on-ones are an obvious need, but office hours have also proven to be effective at limiting interruption and distraction across the board.
  • “At a high-level, discipline is focusing on just a handful of things, which is incredibly challenging because you’ve got so much to do and you’re pulled in so many directions — everything seems important. But discipline comes down to focusing on the right thing.”

ARTICLE - Aeon: In defence of disorder by Alan Lightman - Alan's essay provides a thoughtful summary of disorder's pervasiveness and purpose throughout our lives. I struggle with accepting disorder. This struggle primarily comes from a desire to stay in control, which goes back to teenage fears of substance use leading to mental disorder and uncertainty, and continues to present day desires of full control of my calendar and focus (and even going so far as to plan serendipity into my life 0_o). It seems as if this desire for control is becoming mainstream, too, e.g., the popularity of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo; perhaps this is driven by so much volatility in other realms of our life like politics. That said, there will always be volatility in our lives (an idea conveyed beautifully by Pema Chodron, and embraced by Stoics and Buddhists). To me, this leaves us no choice but to embrace the volatility, to accept the disorder, and at least see and experience the positives that come along with that.

One-Sentence Takeaway: There is tremendous opportunity available in both order and disorder; eschewing disorder removes many beautiful aspects of life.

Answering The Drucker Question: Find a few examples from this week of how disorder added to your life. Journal about any desires for control relating to these examples, and how the disorder ultimately benefitted you in unexpected ways.

Complement with Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine by Alan Lightman and Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron (TD Digest summary).

My highlights:
  • Somewhat surprisingly, nature not only requires disorder but thrives on it. Planets, stars, life, even the direction of time all depend on disorder. And we human beings as well.
  • Human beings have a conflicted relationship to this order-disorder nexus. We are alternately attracted from one to the other. We admire principles and laws and order. We embrace reasons and causes. We seek predictability. Some of the time. On other occasions, we value spontaneity, unpredictability, novelty, unconstrained personal freedom.
  • Order inevitably yields to disorder, and entropy increases until it cannot increase any further. It is this movement that drives the world. Clean rooms become dusty. Temples slowly crumble. As we grow older, bones grow brittle. Stars eventually burn out, emptying their hot energy into the coldness of space – but while doing so, they provide warmth and life to surrounding planets. We live off this relentless increase of disorder... [E]verything passes from order to disorder as we march towards the future. One might say that the forward direction of time is the increase in disorder.
  • From an evolutionary point of view, order implies predictability, patterns, repeatability – all of which allow us to make good predictions. And predictions are useful for knowing when game will run through the forest, or when crops should be planted. The benefit to our survival is obvious. More unexpected, perhaps, is how attentiveness to surprise, chance and novelty can also confer an advantage. If we get too complacent with our routine, we can’t react when things change, when the tiger suddenly appears on the path that we have walked along a thousand times without mishap. And we would not take risks, for fear of departing from our familiar routines. So it makes sense that we’ve developed a desire for both the predictable and the unpredictable.

- Reboot: #90 – The Fear of Being You with Leonie Akhidenor by Jerry Colonna - Leonie and Jerry's conversation bravely talks through the difficulties with the persistent, type A overachiever's inner monologue (go go go more harder faster...). That double-edged sword that drives us to earn everything we have, and yet can make it so much harder to simply enjoy the fruits of our hard work, or show ourselves compassion during the inevitable vicissitudes of life. I have wrestled with this inner voice for decades, experiencing a lot of the good and the bad, so this conversation resonated deeply for me and created many tears.

One-Sentence Takeaway: We can learn from, challenge, and show compassion to our inner voice; the voice that can drive us to success and achievement, but simultaneously lead to us question our self-worth, and sense of love, safety, and belonging.

Answering The Drucker Question: Ask yourself if the inner voice that Leonie discloses exists within you. How has this voice served you? How has this voice generated fear and insecurity? Are you open to listening to, challenging, and showing compassion to this inner voice's assertions?

Complement with The Work of Your Life (TD Digest summary), Spiritual Materialism, and Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It (TD Digest summary).

My highlights:
  • Most of the threats that we feel internally are really a threat to our ability to love or be loved. Our feeling of safety or our feeling of belonging. And sometimes it's a combination of all of those things.
  • I've grown up with this voice. And sometimes this voice has compelled me forward, and I've done really amazing things with it. But sometimes that voice won't let me rest. And sometimes it so won't let me rest that I am exhausted. And sometimes I get angry at that voice, that it won't shut up. And sometimes I worry that that voice is right, that I am not enough.
  • Dad did his best. But the message that you got was that the love that you would feel, the love that you crave, the love that we all deserve as human beings... becomes dependent on external actions, and measured by external actions. And so what happens is if our external behavior, including showing up five minutes late for a meeting, doesn't match those expectations, what is threatened is that sense of love.
  • What can happen to high achieving people, people who use external structures to create a sense of love, safety, and belonging, fueled by a harshly critical voice... We can turn everything into a mechanism for getting an A. Including something as profoundly releasing as a meditation session. We can use something as profoundly important as our focus on our self development... Am I developing fast enough? Am I getting an A in vulnerability and authenticity?
  • What we want to do is love that voice. And tell that voice chill out, I got this. Or even more, thanks, I really appreciate you working overtime to make sure that I get everything right. But these external people in my life, they love me even if I fail. And maybe someday I'll love me even if I fail. But I got this. And you can relax, because I'm safe. I'm worthy of love. And there are people that I belong to.
  • What would happen to you if you gave up the fear of not being enough?... What would you lose that you would want to keep?... The belief is, if I give up this fear of not being good enough, then I will lose the drive... The work is really about letting go, loving what that voice has done... allowing the possibility that you are OK just as you are.
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