Dan Carlin

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

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Dan Carlin joined Daniele Bolelli on the History on Fire podcast for a great ninety minutes. Fans of Carlin’s other shows like Hardcore History or Common Sense will enjoy it.

We will think about what Carlin says about nuanced thinking. For starters, it’s hard. “There’s an ease to adopting an ideology,” Carlin said, “because it gives you ready-made answers for any situation.”

Brett Steenbarger said, “people are averse to effort and there is a certain hope they can get rich quick.” Ramit Sethi called us “cognitive misers.” The work of Robert Cialdini is built on the idea that we reciprocate, use social proof, like to be consistent in our actions, believe in affinity and authority, and will act with the threat of scarcity. Those defaults lead us to the easy decision path.

Carlin and Bolelli want us to be more nuanced.

“There’s this thinking that if we try to understand them we’re justifying them and that’s not what we are doing. You want to understand what makes monsters tick.” – Bolelli

“If you put a middle ages executioner on trial in a modern courtroom but the jury had to be made up of people from his error, does the guy get acquitted or found guilty? Some of the bad people of history would be found innocent by a jury of their peers but some of them stand out in such a way that even in their time period they would be convicted by the people of their era.” – Carlin

“I’m a devil’s advocate kind of guy.” – Carlin

“It’s more complicated than an either or question; it’s both.” – Carlin

“Anytime I hear an argument that’s black and white I can almost automatically assume that it’s wrong. Sometimes reality is black and white but that happens so rarely. The majority of the time it’s complex.” – Bolelli

Why is nuance important?

Good organizations argue well. Bill Belichick and Marc Andreessen both have people take the other sides of their arguments. Jeff Bezos has a “combative” culture at Amazon. Good decisions are forged.

There are very few perfect dichotomies. Most things are a shade of gray. The best answer is ‘it depends.’ Jocko Willink often points out this balance. John Nagl warned, “The American way of war is marked by a belief that the nation is at war or at peace, the binary nature of war leaves no space for political-military interface.” If someone gives you an either-or, don’t.

Finally, a nuanced view creates empathy (not agreement). Empathy is important in How to Negotiate Well. Danny Meyer prefers people with strong people skills – like empathy – over people with strong cooking ones. General Mattis said to build empathy and “try to walk a mile in their shoes.”


Thanks for reading,

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