Tyler Cowen

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

Tyler Cowen joined David Perell on the North Star Podcast to talk about China and India, reading and going, and curiosity. Cowen’s ideas have been on the blog before in posts about cheeseburgers and an interview with Erik Torenberg. Cowen’s own podcast is one of my favorites. Here are my notes.

Curiosity. Cowen is very curious and it might be the fuel for the ‘Tyler Cowen Production Function.’

“I have long-term study plans. Part of my long-term study plan is to understand India and China much better, so that’s a ten-year project I’m kind of in the middle of…during the day I just try to keep up with the flow and the flow always beats me.”

“I view myself as a prisoner of my passions so what helps me is to be very motivated to do what I do.”

“You just want to try to figure things out. It’s a Sherlock Holmes-like game.”

“If I can find things that are fun, compounding will kick in in my favor and all the blunders I make in the meantime will come out in the wash. I recommended against that for most people but that was my so-called planning – to have fun.”

In his podcast on cryptocurrencies, Patrick O’Shaughnessy said it was a fun rabbit hole. Rory Sutherland said, “the one quality I always look for in people is curiosity.” Ray Dalio said that curiosity is a big motivator.

Around the same time of Cowen’s conversation, Walter Isaacson was doing the podcast book tour and he agreed with Cowen about the value of being curious. DaVinci – Isaacson’s latest subject, and a book Cowen recommended – was curious. He kept a notebook of questions. Isaacson is curious too.

Curiosity isn’t only external, it can be internal tool.

“I think so much of what we are, we are born with, so admit that about yourself. Figure out what you’re really good at and try to build on that. Be pretty honest with yourself about what you’re not good at. It has to be fun because you need to be more motivated in this competitive world order.”

Reading + Going = Knowing. Travel is one of the best ways to learn about the world, and it’s the combination of reading and going that deepens knowing.

“I like to go to weird places.”

“That’s part of what being there means. It’s not all going to look like Venice, nor do I want it to.”

“I’ve tried reading (about how the Balkan states are messed up) and I can’t grasp it. I go there and the mix of going there and the books makes it all work.”

Cowen’s erudite interactions engulf the audience, but he gives David good advice, attack the elephant from all sides. Use whatever interests you as a foothold. Architecture, music, celebrity, humor, mentors, sports, and food are all good jumping off places. Cowen chose Masadonia wood carving as his jumping off point for that country, but it can be anything. He also suggested Monty Python comedy as  way to understand cheese shops.

And Proust.

Comedy is only possible with a deep understanding. From Jason Zweig to Judd Apatow and Joe Rogan to Lonely Island, comedians are funny because they know what’s funny, and what’s not.

Mentors unmask.

“There was a fellow named Walter Grinder, who was probably my most important mentor. I met him – I’m guessing – when I was about fourteen (or 13). Walter had never had worldly success but he was the person who had read and understood more books than anyone else and he’s still one of the few I’ve ever met who has read and understood more than anyone else. I saw him and thought, ‘I want to be some version of this.’”

Cowen’s see-it-to-believe-it moment contributed to his lifetime of curiosity. Kevin Delaney saw it during walks to school in New York City. Ken Fisher saw it in his father and grandfather. Alton Brown saw it in a Tuscan pizza maker. Mentors are like magicians, they reveal secrets of the world for those curious enough to find them.


Thanks for reading.


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