Shane Parrish

This was a fun one to write. Shane Parrish was interviewed by Mitch Joel at Six Pixels of Separation and the two talked about a host of interesting things. I’m a fan of both their work, so let’s get to it. Here are a few things I learned.

1/ How to challenge your thinking. “I used to subscribe to magazines that had the opposite point of view that I did, just so I was exposing myself to those ideas, but it’s not really enough to expose yourself to them, you kind of need to hone these general ideas over a long period of time and get better at them if you want to apply them.”

Parrish’s comment reminded me of what Ben Horowitz wrote about culture, “yoga is not culture.” Horowitz’s book drills deep to determine what culture is. It’s true for many things we do in life. Parrish addressed this too:

“A lot of the books are prescriptive, but that doesn’t work in the real world. You can’t just add 20% innovation time to your organization and expect you’re going to be Google. No you have to understand what Google was doing. How it fit in their culture. Why it was part of their culture. Why it worked as part of their culture. And now why it’s stopped. And you further have to map it to the base rate.”

Twenty percent time is not culture. Giving kids iPads is not teaching tech. College is not (always) education. It’s not about what you wear, said Auren Hoffamn but whether that represents something deeper.

For example, we have a collection on ways to use Twitter well, one of which is to challenge your ideas by following people with opposing views. Seeing tweets only does so much, and rarely tests our ideas. In Marc Andreessen’s podcast with Tim Ferriss, he said that he and Horowitz argue like crazy so that any idea that survives that process is a good one. Similarly, we can improve our Twitter use if we engage (cordially) and debate.

2/ Opportunity cost of education. “If you have to prioritize what you’re learning there’s an opportunity cost to it. With that opportunity cost we’re trying to prioritize things that change slowly or not at all.”

Farnam Street is an education in and of itself. Parrish noted that they sometimes discuss best selling books, but don’t begin from that list. Rather, they try to find things that change little. Reading takes a lot of time where you could be doing something else, and Parrish values that time.

The best-selling-books system – as Ryan Holiday has pointed out, can be gamed. Beyond reading Farnam Street, here’s my advice:

a) Prefer number of reviews over favorable reviews:

b) Let podcasts be your guide for books to read. I found Robert Kurson and Eric Weiner after hearing them interviewed.

c) Quit a book that you don’t reach for instead of your phone.

3/ How to eat an elephant. “One of the things I was really conscious about was ‘how do I get a little bit better each year, a little bit smarter.’ I don’t need to be 100% improvement, I just want to get a little bit better every year, and over a long life, hopefully that adds up and I surpass people naturally more smart than me, that are naturally more gifted.”


An idea Steven Kotler has thought about too.

4/ Potpourri. “I was passionate about learning, and I found that the MBA program wasn’t what I thought it would be…it was more of a big money machine…it became about what was easy for the students and teachers.…but that’s how life works too, it was a great lesson for life. Doing what other people lead you down the road to do isn’t always the best answer for you as a person and you need to own and be conscious of the decisions you’re making.”

This quote has a few nooks and crannies we can peek into.

4a/ Time and again we see – thoughaccording to Ezra Klein, we may be biased that people on podcast talk about education this way – that people find education lacking. Teddy Roosevelt’s parents hired tutors and took (lavish and exoitc) family trips. Elizabeth Gilbert approached trips from a different financail place, but found the same value at the end. Our post on the XMBA explains more, and in a way, Farnam Street is an eXperiential MBA.

4b/ Parrish saw that incentives mattered at the university level; both students and professors want things to go smoothly. I sat on both sides of those desks and agree. The incentives were for no one to rock the boat and the journey to be smooth. Incentives matter. People loved  to sell Charles Ponzi’s certificates because he payed (apparently) handsome comissions. Charles Lindbergh used the power of incentives to get the Spirit of St. Louis built. Louis C.K. traded normal TV incentive structure (align content with commercials) for a different set when he released Horace and Pete on his website.

4c/ Your life is your life. Jocko Willink frames it as “extreme ownership.” This kind of ownership can help solve different kinds of problems. Chris Sacca told Bill Simmons that they rarely had leaks at Google because “everyone felt an ownership of the company.” Brogan BamBrogan told Ashlee Vance that Elon Musk would approach an engineer and say:

“‘I need the impossible done by Friday at two P.M. Can you do it?’ Then when you say yes, you are not working hard because he told you to. You’re working hard for yourself. It’s a distinction you can feel. You have signed up to do your own work.”

Thanks for reading, I’m @mikedariano on Twitter. If you liked this post, my podcast is basically the audio version: iTunes, Overcast, Soundcloud, or Medium.

16 thoughts on “Shane Parrish”

  1. […] Shane Parish was disappointed in the higher education incentives of you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. John Nagl studied different incentives for miltary surrender to see that sometimes you needed a carrot, and sometimes a stick. Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops sent their spoils home and created the incentive to keep fighting. […]


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