10 Great Quotes (and why)

Be careful of advice.

— Nassim Taleb

Most quotes are useless. The motivational ones wear off quickly because getting excited is more fun than working. The educational ones are easy to forget and knowledge is rarely imparted on the first try.

However, wisdom is often distilled into quotes. Some jump out more than others. Some can change your perspective on everything, if you take them seriously.

The ten quotes below can do that. They are also useful to reference.

  1. Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world, but maybe 80% of how you think the world works. We’re all biased to our own personal history.

    — Morgan Housel

    This is why history is important. This is why stereotypes are risky. An eskimo is rude to you, so all eskimos are assholes. Maybe, but your sample size is too small.

    Paraphrasing Peter Kaufman (CEO of Glenair and the editor of my favorite book): Every statistician knows that a large, relevant sample size is their best friend. What are the three largest, most relevant sample sizes for identifying universal principles?

    • Inorganic systems (laws of physics): 13.7 billion years in size
    • Organic systems: 3.5 billion years of biology on Earth
    • Human history: 20,000 years of recorded human behavior

    I love these ideas because they are obviously right, yet intimidating at the same time. If we are thinking about where to spend our time learning, it makes sense to focus our attention on things that change slowly.

  2. Experiment is the only means of knowledge at our disposal. Everything else is poetry, imagination.

    — Max Planck

    This is the foundation of science. We can all do science. Every time you drive somewhere and Google Maps says it will take 17 minutes to get there, you are testing a hypothesis and running an experiment. Many people maintain their beliefs (I’ve gone this way for years, it’s faster!), even after facts show their beliefs are wrong. Like many things we talk about, it is simple, but it scales.

    The next one explains why.

  3. For science has one quality that privileges it above all other modes of inquiry: it has shown itself more capable than any of the others at eliciting agreement on the validity of results across cultures, in different languages, and among highly dissimilar observers. The structure of the DNA molecule looks much the same to researchers in Switzerland, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. Aircraft wings bear stress similarly whether the airlines that rely on them operate as subsidized state monopolies or adventurous entrepreneurial enterprises. Astronomers of Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist persuasions have little difficulty reaching a consensus on what causes eclipses, or how galaxies move. 

    — John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History

  4. Reality is neutral. Reality has no judgments. To a tree, there’s no concept of right or wrong or good or bad. You’re born, you have a whole set of sensory experiences…and then you die. How you choose to interpret that is up to you. And you do have that choice.

    — Naval Ravikant

    Being positive is alluring. No one likes a Debbie Downer. However, inside every positive thought is the seed of a negative thought. As soon as you say, “Work is going to be awesome today!” you put expectations on it, which anchors your emotions. If work is anything less than awesome, you feel disappointed. This is why the manic people you know seem over-the-top happy one moment, then deeply sad the next.

    Also, people who try to get you to only focus on the positives are probably trying to sell you something or take advantage of you.

    I am optimistic, but I force that optimism to be grounded in reality. Think like an astronaut. He is traveling to space (what could be more optimistic), but he is also skeptical (how tight are those O-rings on the oxygen tanks?).

  5. The news allows you to dedicate massive amounts of energy and attention to things you probably cannot impact, while the things you can impact go unaddressed.

    — @TheStoicEmperor

    Generally, people say they watch the news because they want to stay informed. This is at best obsolete thinking because there are better ways to get information and the media is mostly noise. Try asking yourself: What am I going to do with this information? How am I personally going to impact this situation?

    Media prioritizes the urgent and fleeting, sizing the topic to the time slot instead of the other way around.

  6. Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.

    — William Deresiewicz, Solitude and Leadership (West Point, 2009)

    I included the link to the entire speech in case you have more than 20 seconds. This will be an intractable problem from now on because spending time thinking about a single thread was hard before news-feeds and the war for attention. Now that Instagram listens to us through our iPhone microphones and shows us exactly what to we like, do we even have a chance? How many times have you caught yourself, phone in-hand like, “Wait, why did I just pick this up again?”

  7. Like all of life’s rich emotional experiences, the full flavor of losing important money cannot be conveyed by literature. You cannot convey to an inexperienced girl what it is truly like to be a wife and mother. There are certain things that cannot be adequately explained to a virgin by words or pictures.

    — Fred Schwed

    When I was 26, I made $20,000 trading oil futures.
    Then, I lost $38,000 (for a net loss of $18,000). There is a lot more to this story (maybe another post because it was a roller coaster), but I remember losing $6,000 in 15 minutes once and feeling like I either was going to throw the computer across my office or throw up.

    Having said that, my emotional composure dramatically improved because of it. This is part of an ongoing goal to be emotionally detached from what happens so I can embrace reality and make dispassionate decisions in stressful, high-stakes situations. You may go through the same thing on a larger or smaller scale. Alternatively, someone else (fund manager, adviser, partner) may go through it with your money. Because of that, I am reluctant to trust someone in business or investing if she has not lost important money before. This is counterintuitive because we would prefer to always make money, not lose it. The inconvenient truth is that it is unrealistic. The only way someone hasn’t lost important money is if they are inexperienced or lying. Money is tremendously emotional, so if someone has influence over yours, you want to know how she will react when bad things happen. If you want to win better than the rest, you must learn how to “lose” better than the rest.

  8. The fundamental delusion  —  there is something out there that will make me happy and fulfilled forever.

    — Naval Ravikant

    Tom Brady will likely be considered the best quarterback of all-time. However, when interviewed he has said despite winning Super Bowls, he feels unfulfilled. Many people are surprised by this. Those people often also wonder why ultra wealthy people don’t retire. Once you accept Naval’s thought, it is liberating because it changes the pressure you put on everything — weddings, kids, houses, girlfriends, husbands.

  9. If you won’t attack a problem while it’s solvable and wait until it’s unfixable, you can argue that you’re so damn foolish that you deserve the problem.

    — Charlie Munger

    The most valuable people in my life are the ones that constructively point out my mistakes. If you have someone that does this for you without ulterior motives, you are lucky. If you know the problem, the problem causes you pain, and you don’t do anything about the problem…see Munger.

  10. You can’t milk a cow over the phone.

    — Anonymous

    Regardless of technology, relationships happen in-person.