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.

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.

What you pay: Deals in the NBA

Shane Jensen to Seth Partnow, “you make the decision to be agnostic to contract in your analysis, but as you think about building a team, contracts are something you need to take into account.” Partnow notes:

“If you’re doing an asset value ranking then age and contract come into the decision making process. There’s some players at the very high end you pay whatever: LeBron, Kawhi, Giannis. You pay them whatever because they still outperform that based on the max contract structure. It’s almost literally impossible to overpay those players.

Partnow

The other group that tends to outperform their contract is rookies, again based on contract structures.

This was in the same podcast where the Wharton hosts discussed Tom Brady, who is making more things go right, and appears to be defying the Howard Marks word of warning: “Buying good things can’t be the secret to success in investing. It has to be the price you pay. It’s not what you buy, it’s what you pay. There’s no asset so good it can’t become overpriced.”

Can you rotate your position?

By rotation, I mean taking all the sides. Whenever there are people of differing positions on an emerging topic — it could be Uber, it could be eSports, it could be 5G, self-driving vehicles, you name it. If I find that I cannot argue from any particular viewpoint, I will book a couple of days to spend time with that community on ethnographic — just hanging out until I rotate my worldview and until I can argue from their viewpoint. That’s called taking all the sides.

Audrey Tang, Conversations with Tyler.

Just one part of of a wide and deep conversation. Tang is one of the few guests who ‘match’ Tyler Cowen on his podcast format.

Large N Small p

Is it more likely for an infected football player to transmit a disease to their teammates or their competition? Adi Wyner:

"I would expect intrateam transmission by far. Not only huddle time, but the time on the bench, in the locker room, and while they travel. It’s a small chance of any given pairing but it’s lots of pairs. Anytime you multiply a large number by small odds you get a large number."

That’s via Wharton Moneyball and demonstrates the large N, small p principle. It’s the idea behind TikTok too. Ben Thompson said:

"What’s interesting thinking about Quibi and TikTok is that Quibi was such an arrogant idea, that professionally produced content is always going to be better. Are we sure about that? The vast majority of TikTok is garbage and that’s always the case with user generated content. But as it turns out, .1% of a massive, massive amount of content is super compelling. You find that one-percent not by being a picker, you find it by sourcing it."

Large N, small p is why something is always happening.

What is cheating in chess is winning in life.

Roland Walker (BBC) talking with David Edmonds. The context is how Chess.com monitors cheating.

“We can’t overstress this enough, humans and computers play utterly differently. Humans play by planning and recognizing patterns. Computers play in unusual ways, it forgets everything that it knew in between every move. A computer doesn’t really have a plan.
“An engine will take back a previous move if it realizes that in the context of the following moves it wasn’t good. A human has a kind of sticky feeling about their plan.”

Chess engines make people better at chess and good players use them to practice, if not to play. It’s the Cowen idea of meta-rationality (more here). The idea of using the right resources.

Computers are good because they compute without bias (kinda) and avoid human mistakes like sunk cost. As Mohnish Pabrai pointed out, “when we spend a lot of time on something, we feel we should get something in return for that time, it’s a danger if you say, I’m going to research a company and decide if I want to invest or not. I think you’re better off researching a company with no such preconceived notion.”

This week my daughters (12, 10) and I watched both Sherlock (also BBC) and Enola Holmes (Netflix, we loved it). In both the episode and the movie, the characters had to be more objective to solve the crime.

However, it’s going full-Sherlock as much as moving in that direction. Like someone training to gain/lose weight, the goal isn’t to become extremely skinny/strong but to be more than the current state.

Meta-rationality then is under indexed, unless of course, it’s outlawed like chess.

h/t Cowen-kinda-queue, a podcast feed of Marginal Revolution mentions.