Authenticity

being the same person in private that you are in public.

being told you’re “obsessed” with a certain subject.

defining situations where the ends justify the means.

finding a groove and sticking too it.

having heated-yet respectful-debates on issues you care deeply about.

remembering Lou Vincenti’s rule:

Tell the truth and you won’t have to remember your lies.

sacrificing nuance before truth to oneself.

viewing failure as less painful than never trying.

Morningstar Challenge

While looking for people to hang out with at Berkshire’s Annual Shareholder Meeting, I stumbled upon TIPS. I’ve written about one of their founders before. They provide stellar podcasts, blog posts, and tutorials on value investing.

After subscribing to their newsletter, I received a checklist for value investing. I found the document’s resources spectacular. So I decided to follow the checklist, find five companies on Morningstar, and see if they were worth investing in.

I wasn’t impressed by the businesses I found. However, I discovered three things about value investing.

Difficulty

It’s hard to read financial statements. Even when I followed a checklist format, it was tedious and draining to find the appropriate metrics. Sometimes, they wouldn’t even be available unless you had a premium account. It makes sense why Munger advocates for checklists when investing; it’s easy to overlook an important detail when you’re inundated with so much information.

Utility

The metrics are useful. I’ve noticed a difference in my ability to evaluate businesses. After interacting with Shawn and realizing how awesome Chipotle was, I looked up its stock price. The metrics helped me guess what the business was worth before ever looking at the current stock price.

China

China is omnipresent on the stock market. Maybe it’s the fact that I read too much WSJ and MIT News. But again and again, I found Chinese conglomerates oil companies, and tech companies when sniffing for deals. I’m very interested to see how China-US economic relationships will change over the next thirty years.  I’ll write a separate article on Lee Kuan Yew and other’s opinion on the challenges China faces in the future.

More Outstanding Customer Service

In Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow, he talks about the aura that surrounds outstanding businesses. How their commitment to excellence extends to every facet of their operations, giving them unrivaled quality (thus customer loyalty). They make you look twice, just like a purple cow would. Here are two Purple Cows, based on my recent experiences.

Chipotle

I mentioned my conversation with Shawn and how polite he was about issuing me a refund. I couldn’t have expected this to arrive in the mail:

In case you forgot, they triple charged last month. This means they owed me two burrito bowls. Shawn gave me five and a handwritten note!

This is marketing at its finest. Companies cannot dictate which interaction with the company will be pivotal to their brand name. To ensure a noteworthy brand name, they must cultivate overachievers like Shawn, ensure prompt service in the restaurant (or point-of-contact), and always put the customer first.

Well done Chipotle.

Threadless

Threadless is my favorite apparel company. I love their business model.* I ordered a t-shirt recently that I thought would be cotton-white. Instead, the special fabric it came on made the t-shirt speckled gray. I know, first-world problems.

I didn’t think much of it. I just stuffed the shirt in the back of my closet and vowed to think twice before buying clothing again.

Then an email came from Threadless asking for feedback. After giving it a 2-star rating, a customer service rep named Masha reached out to me and asked if I’d like a refund or exchange on the house! I will soon be the proud owner of this bad boy:

Life is good when you buy from the right companies. You also get free business lessons in the bargain. Shawn and Masha, I hope you both have a wonderful week.


*Full description of the Threadless business model: They have no physical location. They only drop-ship clothing. They create new designs based on a weekly contest where artists compete for customer votes. The winners get added to the store, and get a royalty fee for every piece of clothing bought. As a result, their ingenuity and humor is unmatched (e.g. a email titled “A banana named Kevin”).

Holly D the Content Creator

I have a confession to make. I haven’t written a single one of the blog posts you’ve read for the past 8 months. I outsourced all of them to my virtual assistant named Holly. And no, I didn’t play a managerial role. This was 100% her domain.

I did this for a couple of reasons. One, to build up my resume for business school. Two, to see if anybody could discover the subterfuge. Three…

I’m just kidding. I write all my content. I don’t even outsource editing (ins’t it obivous?). Yet the thought that I would trick you probably made you a little angry. Why? Because the story I tell matters more than the number of posts I create in a given day. Because the deceit would shatter the trust between us, the one that lets you take me at my word when I tell you something about the world. Because you’re a companion on my quest for knowledge, not a data point I’m trying to squeeze.

Here’s the truth. There is a certain virtual assistant named Holly D. I paid her to look at my blog and give me thirteen ideas for blog posts. Here is her unedited response:

What are some things that most people don’t know about you?
What has been your greatest success in life so far?
What are your most epic failures (and how did you overcome them)?
What would you say to a younger version of yourself?
What things have you learned from your parents?
What is an important lesson you learned recently?
What is your favorite piece of industry news that you’ve come across recently?
Are there any funny posts or videos you found lately that you can share?
Can you share a recent travel experience?
Anything unique or funny happened at the office/classroom this week?
What are your hobbies?
What are your favorite YouTube channels?
What books are on your shelf?
What is your favorite restaurant?

Besides getting the feeling that Holly wants to date me, I don’t think she read the blog closely enough.

What are some things that most people don’t know about you? I quit things strategically.
What has been your greatest success in life so far? Recent success.
What are your most epic failures (and how did you overcome them)? My epic failures.
What would you say to a younger version of yourself? Anything on this blog.
What things have you learned from your parents? Cherish them while they’re here.
What is an important lesson you learned recently? How to get a balanced information diet.
What is your favorite piece of industry news that you’ve come across recently? Two actually.
Are there any funny posts or videos you found lately that you can share? Too easy.
Can you share a recent travel experience? Travel experience.
Anything unique or funny happened at the office/classroom this week? All the time.
What are your hobbies? Can be inferred from my product loyalties.
What are your favorite YouTube channels? Hyperlinked in this post.
What books are on your shelf? Can be seen on the header of this post (now the second shelf is full too).
What is your favorite restaurant? First, nobody cares about this. Second, I have to leave a little mystery about myself :)

I’m relieved to say I passed the Holly test. Not that it matters. This blog is a creative outlet for me, and hopefully a valuable asset for you all. I can promise you that I’ll never try to outsource my thinking on important subjects (like my blog) ever again.

Two More Resources

I omitted two shiny, new online sources when disclosing my favorite newsletters last Sunday. I needed to take a few days to do a quality check on them. They passed. First, there’s Stratechery, a blog that focuses on the intersection of business and technology. Ben Thompson’s posts are extremely insightful, and he’s followed closely by intellectual powerhouses like Evan Williams (king of monetization). Second, I started following James Clear. It looks like he’s a cross between Shane Parrish and Eric Barker, but I need to read more content. Either way, he’s a nice guy who responds to his emails and has a killer UI.

 

TLDR:

Stratechery

James Clear

Writing Down the Bones & Sleep Deprivation

Last Friday night, I intended to go to bed by 11. I wanted to wake up early and study more statistics. At about 10:45, I decided to re-read my notes from a few books. While grabbing the various material from my library, I noticed Writing Down the Bones.

My willpower weak, I decided to read only the introduction. A quick skim turned into a marathon, and I closed the book with a sigh close to 4AM. So much for stats…

The book is incredibly useful for anybody who writes regularly. For a newbie though, I think Goldman’s writing exercises are the most useful resource. So if you want to practice your storytelling with no pressure, try following one of the prompts below:

[Set 1:] Choose one of the below topics. Set aside 10 to 30 minutes to write. During this time, the only rule is to continue writing. No crossing out, no double checking. Put pen to paper and run it.

  1. Tell about the quality of light coming in through your window. Jump in and write. Don’t worry if it is night and your curtains are closed or you would rather write about the light up north–just write. Go for ten minutes, fifteen, a half hour.
  2. Begin with “I remember.” Write lots of small memories. If you fall into one large memory, write that. Just keep going. Don’t be concerned if the memory happened five seconds ago or five years ago. Everything that isn’t this moment is memory coming alive again as you write. If you get stuck, just repeat the phrase “I remember” again and keep going.
  3. Take something you feel strongly about, whether it is positive and negative, and write about it as though you love it. Go as far as you can, writing as though you love it, then flip over and write about the same thing as though you hate it. Then write about it perfectly neutral.
  4. Choose a color-for instance, pink-and take a fifteen-minute walk. On your walk notice wherever there is pink. Come back to your notebook and write for fifteen minutes.
  5. Write in [three] different places. For each place, write about what is going on around you.
  6. Give me your morning. Breakfast, waking up, walking to the bus stop. Be as specific as possible. Slow down in your mind and go over the details of the morning.
  7. Visualize a place that you really love, be there, see the details. now write about it. It could be a corner of your bedroom, an old tree you sat under one whole summer, a table at McDonald’s in your neighborhood, a place by a river. What colors are there, sounds, smells? When someone else reads it, she should know what it is like to be there. She should feel how you love it, not by your saying you love it, but by your handling of the details.
  8. Write about “leaving.” Approach it any way you want. Write about your divorce, leaving the house early this morning, or a friend dying.
  9. What is your first memory?
  10. Who are the people you have loved?
  11. Write about the streets of your city.
  12. Describe a grandparent.
  13. Write about the following. Don’t be abstract. Write the real stuff. Be honest and detailed.
    1. swimming
    2. the stars
    3. the most frightened you’ve ever been
    4. green places
    5. how you learned about sex
    6. your first sexual experience
    7. the closest you ever felt to God or nature
    8. reading and books that changed your life
    9. physical endurance
    10. a teacher you had
  14. Take a poetry book. Open to any page, grab a line, write it down, and continue from there. Every time you get stuck, just rewrite your first line and keep going. Rewriting your first line gives you a whole new start and a chance for another direction.
  15. What kind of animal are you? Do you think you are really a cow, chipmunk, fox, horse underneath?

[Set 2 & 3:]

  • Write for ten minutes beginning with “I am a friend to…” and only list inanimate objects.
  • Write a series of ten poems. You only have three minutes to write each one, each one must be three lines. Begin each one with a title that you choose from something that your eye falls on: for example, glass, salt, water, light reflecting, the window. Three lines, three minutes, the first is “Glass.” [Rinse & repeat]

Note: a few edits to the above quote were made for readability.

Current News and Knowledge-Building: How to get a Balanced Information Diet

Remember that friend that’s always arguing over this week’s enlightening news story? You know the one. The buddy that skims the headlines and offers opinions based on the scantiest of facts. Feel bad for her. She’s fattening her brain up on literary junk food.

The Power of Knowledge

I read a lot. During which I observe certain things. Recently, I noticed a stark contrast between the usefulness of different types of writing. My synthesis of “news-oriented” (Type 1) and “knowledge-oriented” (Type 2) articles differed widely. For Type 1 writing, it feels like I’m discovering a whole new world of information. Inevitably though, I forget I ever read the damn thing. By contrast, Type 2 writing seem moderately important when reading. The full extent of its literary merit only reveals itself when I notice and apply concepts in the real world (e.g. when I used Chris Voss’s negotiation techniques to get my friend out of a ticket).

In other words, current news consistently exaggerates its importance and underdelivers on content, while older books like Deep Simplicity radically alter my worldview.

The Power of Timely Information

Until last week, I dismissed news-based writing as manipulative and fleetingly useful. I’ve changed my mind. This realization followed something Charlie Munger said during Berkshire Hathaway’s 2003 annual shareholder meeting. Basically, Munger described his habit of reading the Wall Street Journal everyday as fundamental knowledge. I thought Type 1 knowledge was useless…so which fundamental assumption did I overlook? After a few days of reflection, I decrypted Munger’s message. Mark Cuban describes it better than me:

“The people walking in the door [knew] as little as I [did], so if I just started doing what I told my boss I would do—read the manuals—I would be ahead of the curve. That’s what I did. Every night I would take home a different software manual, and I would read it. Of course the reading was captivating. Peachtree Accounting. Wordstar, Harvard Graphics, PFS, dBASE, Lotus, Accpac … I couldn’t put them down. Every night I would read some after getting home, no matter how late…It worked. Turns out not a lot of people ever bothered to RTFM (read the frickin’ manual), so people started really thinking I knew my stuff…Everything I read was public. Anyone could buy the same books and magazines. The same information was available to anyone who wanted it [emphasis added]. Turns out most people didn’t want it.”

The fact that nobody else closely reads news-oriented material makes it so valuable. Everybody has interacted with Excel or the New York Times before. Very few dive into the technical details like Cuban, or read a paper daily for seventy years straight like Munger. In the long-run, these sources yield hidden-in-plain-sight information that empowers loyal readers to take contrarian, correct bets on macro-trends.

Some may argue that technical manuals can hardly qualify as current news. I disagree. The rapid alteration of coding languages and system specs makes the manual’s information time sensitive just like a newspaper article. Think of it like this: how much has introductory calculus changed in the past 300 years? How about introductory statistics? They’re obviously Type 2. Contrast that with the proliferation of coding languages in the past ten years alone.

How to Balance the two

The problem is getting a “balanced diet” of Type 1 and Type 2 information. News provides an opportunity to apply the knowledge you’ve learned. Acquiring long-term information expands your circle of competence.

Like I said before, I started off with a healthy distaste for Type 1 information. I love Nassim Taleb’s quote:

“To be completely cured of newspapers, spend a year reading the previous week’s newspapers.”

Unfortunately, his statement is incomplete. There are two redeeming characteristics to Type 1 sources. First, an erroneous opinion is incredibly useful to the trained mind, as it forces the intellectual to understand why he disagrees. Also, time-sensitive information like an announced merger or attempted hostile takeover can provide profitable business opportunities.

I don’t know the perfect blend of news consumption and knowledge consumption. It varies based on your temperament, the demands of your job, and your interest in the subject being discussed. It’s up to you to experiment with various proportions.

I recommend starting with only books for a week (or a month), simply because people usually lean towards Type I sources. This means deleting Facebook, ignoring the TV’s breaking news, and visiting your local library. After the allotted time, try a 1:1 ratio, and work from there.

Beware of Mimics When Learning

The most dangerous writing you can consume is a Type 1 article masquerading as a Type II. Here are a few breakdowns of pure Type 1 and 2 sources versus a mimic:

Marketing blogger clash: Noah Kagan vs. Avinash Kaushik

Recently, I watched “2018 Best Marketing Strategies” by Noah. Although he’s a great marketer that usually produces quality content, this is a news article masquerading as a Type 2 article. The best practices in marketing don’t change that much from year to year. So Noah’s actually describing the most promising marketing developments in the past year instead of the best strategies. This would be most useful to a professional keeping a pulse on industry trends.

Contrast this with Avinash, who underlines that marketing is hard. In one article, he gives readers a data playground to learn marketing analysis. The article emphasizes problem solving as much more important than fluency in any particular marketing channel. Thus, this is a Type 2 article, offering sustainable and lasting advice. Following the steps in it prepares a novice for a career in marketing.

More to the point, Avinash’s article is relevant almost two years later. Avinash, however, will only craft a follow-up post after a major market shift (e.g. Google bankruptcy). With Noah, I can already hear his “2019 Best Marketing Strategies” youtube video in the distance.

Institutional Clash: Medium’s Weekly Newsletters vs. MIT’s Tech Review Newsletter

Here are screenshots of the layouts of both newsletters.

Medium:

 

MIT:

As you can see, the Medium article is longer and more clickbait-y. I don’t see a “cognitive hypnotherapist” profoundly changing my worldview, and if I see one more article on “being confident” I might throw up.

I’m being unfair. It’s too easy to nitpick specific articles. The real reason why Medium’s newsletter is a Type I source is because it doesn’t produce the required results. When I read books by Steve Covey, Charlie Munger, or Steven Pressfield, it changes the way I interact with the world. Reading Medium-curated articles had no such effect.

MIT’s newsletter, on the other hand, helps me view profound technological and political developments. It’s concise, minimalist, and less manipulative. Its titles don’t try to entice a click, they simply state the subject at hand. I’m a fairly new subscriber to the newsletter, so I could be wrong. However, I already find myself more aware of macro-trends (and the potential consequences).

MIT’s newsletter contains the kind of Type 1 information we should be exposed to. It focuses on content, not clicks.

Results

I’m subscribed to people, not companies now. I unsubscribed from all my curated Medium feeds (as their titles consistently overpromise and underdeliver). The only newsfeeds I follow are Tim, Avinash, Seth, Shane, Zat Rana, Eric and MIT (based off of Reid Hoffman‘s advice). Every other feed I’ve followed has disappointed me. More importantly, they waste my time.

This paradigm shift will also affect this blog. After I finish this blog year challenge, I’m going to switch to a biweekly post schedule. Besides the time commitment in daily posting, I want to craft Type 2 content. The rest of the world covers Type 1 pretty extensively.

This gels with the ethos of all the bloggers I mentioned above. Only Seth blogs daily. Everyone else usually writes once or twice a week.

If my blog could die, I would want the death certificate to say: “COD: Type II Writing.”

Further Reading

  • https://www.fs.blog/2013/12/stop-reading-news/
  • http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2017/02/nextstep.html
  • http://observer.com/2017/02/i-helped-create-the-milo-trolling-playbook-you-should-stop-playing-right-into-it/
  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2012/07/18/how-this-guy-lied-his-way-into-msnbc-abc-news-the-new-york-times-and-more/
  • https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2012/09/how-you-can-use-technology-to-make-you-happie/

Success!

Here’s the full email:

Hi, it’s Alex DiPalma. I’ll be running the Fellowship with my friend and co-creator Seth Godin.
I’m thrilled to let you know that you’ve been accepted and we’d love to have you join us this summer.
I’ve read through hundreds of applications, and you’re in.
NEXT STEPS:
You can find the enrollment form here: [omitted]
Go visit the site, read all the details and once you’re ready, finish your registration.
If you have any questions at all, please don’t hit reply (Seth’s mailbox is already overflowing). Instead, drop me a line at [omitted] and I’ll get back to you within a day or two.
Enjoy the spring and we’ll see you soon.
Alex DiPalma
For all of those that sent emails or offered words of encouragement:
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
You are what makes this blog special.

Three Things I Learned From Getting a Financial Advisor

A few months ago I got a peer-to-peer financial advisor through Berkeley’s Bear’s for Financial Success division. I wanted her to hold me accountable for my monthly expenses, and get a grasp on how much cash I consumed.

Although it varied, I mainly met with Jamee, a senior at Cal. Here are three lessons I learned by meeting with Jamee and her coworkers for three months:

Social Proof Works

Having a scheduled meeting made budgeting expenses easy; the pain of looking dumb in front of somebody outweighed the tediousness of counting expenses. This makes sense given humans’ innate biases: I wanted to appear consistent to the staff, as I promised to come back next month.

This social force was so powerful, it inspired my FOMO Antidote article. By making failure a public spectacle, I greatly improved the probability that I’ll embark on those small-but-mighty adventures.

So do a public announcement on social media to find somebody to nag you about cost-saving. Ask them to do monthly check-ins with you. Your wallet will grow fat while your headaches diminish.

The Rules to Wealth Don’t Change

It turns out that a good proportion of my expenses weren’t going towards food like I thought. Besides books, I spent too much on fleeting activities like surfing or outsourcing experiments. This violated the tenet: spend less that you make. So I stopped surfing and started renting books instead of buying them.

I also ignored some financial advice to adhere to the basics of financial wealth. One advisor proposed taking three hours to cook massive amounts of meat and beans for the week. That’s costlier than the premium on eating out. The advisor didn’t factor in the opportunity cost of cooking instead of working, studying, or reading. My time is worth much more than the money saved. Thus, I avoided being penny rich, dollar poor.

Personal Finance is a Starting Point

A lot of the advice staff members gave me was very basic. As it should be. International arbitrage isn’t a prerequisite to understanding how student debt affects your personal finances.

The problem is, people stop inquiring about personal finance after mastering the basics. Many students are content knowing that they’re saving money on groceries and avoiding credit card debt.

Avoid that mindset. Continue your financial education. Learn about accounting, real estate investment, cash flow, and other concepts that make money work for you.

Takeaway

Money will influence the rest of your life. Learn, experiment, and avoid stupidity with your personal finances. It’s fun, and it puts you ahead of the pack.