Ben Sasse

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

Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) joined Tyler Cowen to talk about his book, and living in small towns and Neverland. As expected, this is truly a “Conversation with Tyler.”

Here are the notes:

1/ That’s interesting, maybe I should measure it. Our That’s Interesting post looked at examples for when people observed something that didn’t match their reality. 🤔 When this happens it’s a signal to start digging.

Sasse had this experience as president of Midland University. Their student to faculty ratio in the accounting program was a slim 40:1 compared to the bloated University of Nebraska number of 330:1. Ha! That’s a perfect fact for campus tours. But it turns out it doesn’t really matter that much.

“There are five nerds that talk all the time in a 40:1 class or in a 330:1 class. And in both cases, the feedback loop of the professor, so that she or he understands what students are learning or not, is not well represented by the five kids who talk all the time.”

Sasse dug further and found out that models like hybrid online/meatspace were better.

Later in the interview, Cowen asked about what Sasse is good at and he mentions “strategic vision” and “building a menu of choices about what strategic choices we should be making.” Prerequisite to that though is “a minimum threshold of how smart people need to be.”

Knowing minimum thresholds and effective class sizes both come from interrogating figures. Ben Carlson tweeted:

But I liked this updated (homage) version, A Field Guide to Lies. Both books do a good job of inspiring the type of thinking Sasse engaged. That’s interesting!? Now, what do those numbers mean?

2/ Don’t let school get in the way of your education. “School,” said Sasse, “is one kind of tool and we need lots of kids of tools in our education.” Jeff Annello used a similar analogy. He pointed it out for mental models. 🛠

There are two buckets; mental and physical travel.

We call mental travel ‘reading’. 📚 Between Cowen’s blog, Marginal Revolution, and podcast book suggestions you should be good. There’s also the “St. Johns reading list“.

Beyond learning facts, Sasse said, reading also creates empathy:

“One of the reasons why it’s critically important for our teens to read fiction is, they need to be transported to other times and places. They need to actually be able to see through the lenses of other protagonists.”

I finished [A Burglar’s Guide to the City}( and was struck by how interesting architecture is. Like Geoff Manaugh, I found myself wondering about burglary. “How would I rob my house?” I’d never considered this point of view without reading this book.  📖

Another way to learn is physical travel. 🇻🇳🇹🇰🇸🇾🇸🇿

“It wasn’t until I started to learn Spanish that I understood English at all. And I think that’s what travel is. This is not the grand European tour for rich kids. This is about going 10 miles from your own home and spending time with people in another neighborhood, or this is about going from the built environment where our kids are almost exclusively being raised and going and living in nature for a while. I think you acquire eyes to see where you’re from the first time.”

A 🐟 can’t explain to you what 💦 is, like because he’s never been out of 💦.

Another form of physical education is an apprenticeship. “We haven’t figured out in most professional schools how to create apprenticeship models where you cycle through different aspects of what doing this kind of work will actually look like.”

Medicine, Sasse said, does this okay, but other fields can adapt it too. Mentorship is a light version of apprenticeship.

Whether with books or people, “you have to engage people who’s ideas are different than yours,” said Sasse. Good organizations argue well. Phil Jackson‘s tenure as President of the New York Nicks failed because he failed to heed his own advice. “What impressed me about Bill (Bradley) and Cazzie (Russell) was how intensely they were able to compete with each other without getting caught in a battle of egos.” What the 1972 Knick learned the 2017 Knick did not heed.

Sasse and Cowen encourage people to know both sides of a position. So do Eric Maddox, Charley Ellis, and Dan Carlin.

3/ The greenhouse phase. “It’s a pretty glorious thing to get this kind of 18-months to four-year greenhouse phase as you transition from dependent childhood to independent adulthood.”

An early job I had was mowing lawns. I created flyers on my parent’s computer, used their lawnmower, and drove to each customer’s house each week. One day I explained to my dad how much money I was making per hour. ‘Why did I ever flip burgers?’ I wondered. ‘Well,’ he said, as all dads do, ‘are you sure you’ve accounted for all your expenses.’

‘Huh?’ I said.

He went on to explain that my capital outlays of $0.00 for equipment weren’t quite accurate. Neither were my expenses. I paid for gas but not insurance. I didn’t have a clue about taxes. I was a guppy. I lived in the greenhouse without even knowing it. (Hence #2).

Adults fall victim to this too. I still fall victim to this. Investors who do great in a bull market only really know that they can do great in a bull market. It’s hard to separate the fish;🐟 like great NBA players or technology executives  from the water.🌊

Similarly, young people need to grow in a greenhouse, but not think a greenhouse is all there is.



Thanks for reading,

If these emojis were annoying, let me know on Twitter, @MikeDariano.


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