I read a lot. More and more, I’ve been thinking about what I read and asking myself if I’m making the most use of that time? Is there a way to improve return on investment? What Should I Read?
I’m not looking to optimize it to the Nth degree but it would be nice to come up with a simple map to help me know where I can find the most value per unit of work.
I think I’ve found it by combining two very simple ideas.
The first is getting back to basics, a concept from Five Elements of Effective Thinking:
The most useful knowledge is a broad-based multidisciplinary education of all of the world’s great basic ideas. From there, you could specialize. And a broad understanding is built not on ideas that are recent but rather on ideas that have lasted, and will last.
“The more basic knowledge you have … the less new knowledge you have to get.” — Charlie Munger
The depth at which we master the basics is an indicator of how well we understand everything (after that). Deep work on simple ideas increases understanding and helps us build true virtuosity. If we are to have a chance of understanding complex problems, we need to master the basics.
The slightest wind blows over a house without a foundation.
The Lindy Effect
The second idea is Nassim Taleb’s concept of the Lindy Effect. Taleb was building on something developed by Benoit Mandelbrot. In Antifragile, he writes:
The nonperishable is anything that does not have organic or avoidable expiration dates.
While produce and humans have a mathematical life expectancy that decreases with each day, some things increase life expectancy with each day.
When I see a toddler walking down the street holding the hands of their grandparents, I can reasonably assert that the toddler will survive the elder.
With something nonperishable that is not the case.
This is where Taleb asserts “So the longer a technology lives, the longer it can be expected to live.”
Not all things age with years.
This is where Taylor Pearson helped me put something together that I was just too stupid to do myself.
He connects reading to the Lindy effect. Whereas before my heuristic was simply older is better, now I know older is exponentially better. More importantly I have an idea why.
So let’s combine these ideas.
Knowledge has a half-life. The most useful knowledge is a broad-based multidisciplinary education of the basics. These ideas are ones that have lasted, and thus will last, for a long time. And by last, I mean mathematical expectation; I know what will happen in general but not each individual case.
In the words of Charlie Munger, “take a simple idea and take it seriously.”
This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.
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