Influential Words

Could: a verb used for clicks as in, this <insert news> could have these economics effects on your portfolio.

More: a pronoun used to show relative position, though the original may not be stated, as in, Laura got more for her money at Herr’s.

Deal: a noun used to show relative rather than absolute spending. As in, I got a great deal on my new SUV.

Largest increase or fastest growing: an adverb/verb combination demonstrating increase in a small group. As in, pickleball is America’s fastest growing sport. Antonym: Large N, small p.

The theme here is relativity. People are relative thinkers; see corporate greed or cheating college. Words matter because they frame our approach. Listen closely. Consider the focus. Do the words hint at who was at fault? If this were a movie why is this the script? Need to change how people understand something, or apply some extreme ownership?

Part of the reasons pickleball IS so fast growing is my participation. Thanks too to Tim for a conversation long ago that planted this seed.

Framing as a Fire or as a Fight

One way to change an experience, and all experience is subjective, is to change the framing of it. Our food takes longer because we make it fresh. Via a16z:

“There has been some interesting work in the linguistics community asking if we should be using war as a metaphor for the virus. There’s a lot of discussion about ‘front line workers’, which is a war metaphor, but unlike people in the military, they didn’t volunteer for this degree of risk.”

Gretchen McCulloch

McCulloch goes on to consider how things would be different if the pandemic were described as a fire or natural disaster. What if outbreaks were flareups, people sheltered temporarily, and we extinguished the threat?

Some added stress of this pandemic is from our ambiguity aversion: we don’t like the feeling of not knowing.

So we use metaphors. Fights are: Us vs them, victory is this mark, loss is this, collateral damage is undesired but expected.

This post isn’t to say that Fire or Fight is better for the pandemic, but to think about using framing in interesting ways. Here’s one we’ve featured before:

This ad frames opportunity cost. It says, you’ve got 1,200 dollars. Do you want a new iPhone or a nearly-new iPhone and tickets to the ballet?

Framing works not because people can’t do the thinking by themselves, but that they don’t because thinking about all this is hard. We’ve evolved to process information where available equals important. That’s often good enough, so we stop thinking.

This is all good news. It’s why Alchemy is possible. Using the right words changes the focus which changes the understanding which changes the actions.

Would the pandemic be different if we viewed it more as a natural disaster? Maybe. Would our understanding, focus, and concept be different? Certainly.

Is “wet bias” a bad thing?

“Bias” tends to have negative connotations. It’s the “wrong” answer.

The problem here is a translation issue. It’s going from the world of One Answers (mathematics) to the world of Many Answers (life).

Weather is a fascinating demonstration. Nate Silver writes in the 2020 edition of The Signal and the Noise, “The further you get from the government’s original data and the more consumer facing the forecast, the worse this bias becomes.”


(John Gruber) “I staunchly believe that Fahrenheit is the better scale for weather because it’s based on the human condition. Who gives a crap about what the boiling point of water is, it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

(Ben Thompson) “The other thing is that Celsius is not precise enough. In the car it adjusts it by point-five because a single degree of celsius is too much for the car. Fahrenheit is more finely grained in a positive way.”

This is why we have a wet bias. We design weather for people.

Silver again, “It’s deliberate and it has to do with economic incentives. People notice one kind of mistake, the failure to predict rain, more than another kind, false alarms. If it rains when it’s not supposed to they curse the weatherman for ruining their picnic. Whereas an unexpectedly sunny day is taken as a serendipitous bonus.”

One change in my thinking over the yeas has been to reframe ‘bias’ as ‘tendency’ and then consider what’s happening. Humans are only illogical in the game of optimization, which matters in the world of calculations rather than considerations.

Wet bias may be inaccurate but that doesn’t make it wrong.

Da Moon

Via Reddit.

“My parents are everything to me. They’ve worked their asses off to raise me and my two little siblings, starting with nothing as immigrants. They’re in the restaurant business and the pandemic forced them to burn through a large chunk of their savings, and they stress out over finances every single day. My dad always told me one day he’ll retire once the house is paid off, and that day is finally here.”

The OP dollar cost averaged their way to six Bitcoin for an estimated $240,000. “Thank you bitcoin community for all the memes and bullshit TA threads. I’ve reached my moon.”

We denominate freedom in money (the number) and sometimes get caught in this metric. But personal financial success seems to be mostly choosing from the good options, having good luck, and remembering da moon. Inverted: it’s not getting caught up with the Jones family.

With the 2020/2021 run it’s been a treat to see the Reddit stories about paying down debts, hitting marks, and people cashing out.

There’s certainly luck, but for OP there’s also brains and heart.

OP: Original Poster

The Swiss Cheese Approach

“Testing, tracing, vaccination…We will arrive at more of a Swiss cheese approach. Every single thing we’re doing: mask wearing, vaccinations, testing, therapy. Every one is imperfect, like a slice of Swiss cheese. But if we do a dozen of these and lay one over another all the holes are gone. That’s what it’s going to take.”

Larry Brilliant on the Tim Harford podcast

We’ve addressed this idea before, to always fix your weaknesses, but the pandemic response is another opportunity to think roughly about cost-benefit actions.

Most of the time, s-curves, there’s a great return whereas the same fixed effort later is like squeezing the remnants from a tube of toothpaste. The iPhone is a clear example where for many years it was an amazing improvement but each iteration is more novel.

However, the slew of Apple products is like Brilliant’s block of Swiss cheese. Each iPhone, iPad, AirPods, etc. has ‘holes’ but overall the company has few.

What’s really the game?

Photo by fotografierende on

In 2009, Annie Duke finished second behind Joan Rivers on Celebrity Apprentice. This was surprising, said Tyler Cowen, “I would pick you.” On the show Duke was better. She raised more money and won more challenges. In those areas, Duke won. But that’s not really the game of Celebrity Apprentice.

Penn Jillette explained explained that there are two games on one show:

“On reality TV competition shows, there are always at least two competitions going on. There’s the competition that’s the make-believe of the show, and there’s the real completion that happens outside the TV show. Winning the make-believe completion does help with winning the real competition, but they’re not the same.”

Duke too was aware. She told her friends and family there was no way she would win. The rules were simple: Donald Trump chooses a winner. That’s the game of the make-believe show. However, there’s also the second game which Duke won and continues to win as she joins podcast like Cowen Convos.

There’s a joke my kids love. It goes like this: You walk into a barbershop and there are two barbers. One is well heeled and has a fantastic haircut. The other is unkempt. Whose chair do you sit at for your follicle fix?

Who do you pick?

There are multiple games at multiple levels. Mostly it’s the game of Show and the game of Go. Some succeed at both games. Warren Buffett comes to mind, and proves it goes deeper because Buffett’s Show game is a certain type.

In games with tight feedback (pool construction), the game of Go is more important. In games with loose feedback, the game of Show rises in esteem. 

Most of life is complex and we must play both games. Annie Duke might not have written books, joined podcasts, and shared what she learned without playing the game of Celebrity Apprentice. Jillette noted how the reality-TV game helped with the put-asses-in-seats-at-P&T-theater game. The games feed back on each other. We all play games, how much Show and how much Go? 

Tracking Tom Update: Well, he did it. Tom Brady passed for 4,633 yards this year, 377 more than the betting line. We’ll conduct a post-mortem in the future.


A group of investment bankers sat down. It was going to be a good night for Danny Meyer. That was good, it was three-months into his first restaurant.

The man at the head of the table asked for a chardonnay. Meyer delighted. He’d just got in a premier cru Rousseau. It was $45 a bottle. In 2015, Meyer joked, that might buy you half a glass.

Meyer walked out and proudly presented the wine.

“That’s not a chardonnay,” the big banker said.

“What I needed to have done at that very moment, which I trust I’ve done since. When he said, ‘This is not a chardonnay’, I should have said, ‘It sounds like you want a California chardonnay.'”

Danny Meyer, YouTube 2015

Instead, Meyer argued that it was. It went back and forth and the banker brought in the table, each member of which nodded in agreement that it was indeed not a chardonnay.

It was probably less than a minute. Meyer retreated and returned with a cheaper wine from California and that’s the story behind his most important lesson, the irrelevancy of being right.

Wine is odd. People buy wine for all kinds of reasons. The Barefoot founders figured out one way. But there always is a reason. That’s the lesson Danny learned. It’s their reason.

Part of the wine boom from 1980 onward was because wine was presented as doing one job: conveyed in an inaccessible language. Robert Modavi first communicated differently. The Barefoot founders did too. They found out there were other ‘jobs’ of wine.

When I delivered newspapers as a kid I loved the Best Buy ads where I could compare MB and GB and RAM on every new Dell, Compaq, and Gateway computer. But what really mattered was the job: will this play Warcraft II?

Apple figured this out.

Meyer figured this out.

This trips up operators all the time because it’s economic to use shorthand. But shorthand cuts out the magic, the feeling, the job—which is the soul of what a customer hires a product. Don’t be right, do your job.

The ‘Job’ of what is said

“I thought hard about what other people are trying to accomplish and I tried to shape my language in a way they could hear it. That’s half of what I talk to founders about. It’s just that, how to build the API to the other person’s brain. It doesn’t matter what you say. It matters what they hear, and it matters how they feel.”

Sam Hinkie, ILTB

That expression has a real JTBD-ness to it. It’s not the how something is done but the what, and if it’s the right what.

Tracking Tom. After a monster of a game, Tom Brady is 162 yards ahead of pace, his largest difference of the year. If Brady plays the rest of the games he’ll likely hit the over and our speculation will be wrong but our reasoning continues to hold, though maybe less than we should have suspected. One question comes to mind:

Did we think about base rates wrong? The key to base rates is to choose the right reference class. Brady seems fanatical about his health, and maybe we should have taken a page from Morey and made a cross-class comparison to Lebron James.

There’s still more ‘zero’ outcomes than not. Tampa could clinch a playoff spot, or be eliminated. Brady could be injured or rest before the playoffs.

We speculated at the start of the season there were a lot more zero to 200-yard games (injury, rest, offense, etc.) than 400+-yard games. That’s held in the data, Brady’s median yards per game is 11 yards less than his average. It feels incredibly odds, but we’ll be wrong for the right reasons.

Leave the selfie stick/mindset at home

“Well, my advice to everyone that goes to a national park is to leave your selfie stick behind and leave your desire to get that perfect selfie behind and just soak in the beauty of the park itself because that will stay with you a lot longer than this selfie kind of mode will.”

Tim Cook, Outside podcast

One theme of the podcast between Cook and Michael Roberts is the classic, am I using technology or is technology using me? Sometimes that manifests in taking selfies rather than enjoying spaces.

But it’s Cook’s framing that’s my favorite idea. Don’t want to take selfies, design the choice to be easy, and leave the selfie stick at home.

But, what if we apply this to the selfie mindset. Take the stick but leave the mindset?

The way we think about problems greatly affects the way we solve problems. One way to approach situations then is to ‘bring along’ a new mindset. For instance, someone can consider how to argue well or to learn something with Fermi Knowledge. Bringing that desire to a new project, situation, or group will affect how we act.

It’s easy to think of bringing along of tangible things but we can bring along ideas too, and framing them that way might make them easier to pack.

Fermi Knowledge

There’s the Fermi Paradox, which wonders where the aliens are. There’s also the Fermi Problem, which considers piano tuners in Chicago. These two are related to each other and also to what we will call Fermi Knowledge.

This story is from The Last Man Who Knew Everything and is told by a family friend who lent a teenage Enrico Fermi a book.

For instance, I remember that when he returned the calculus book by [Ulisse] Dini I told him that he could keep it for another year or so in case he needed to refer to it again. I received this surprising reply: “Thank you, but that won’t be necessary because I’m certain to remember it. As a matter of fact, after a few years I’ll see the concepts in it even more clearly than now, and if I need a formula I’ll know how to derive it easily enough.”

That’s a deep understanding to aspire to. Reading about Fermi, or Feynman, it makes me wonder how much of insight is due to seeing the world through first principles and then verifying a new idea works.