12/9 - What's Next

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Articles to Read.

The Lesson to Unlearn

The most damaging thing you learned in school wasn't something you learned in any specific class. It was learning to get good grades.

In theory, tests are merely what their name implies: tests of what you've learned in the class. In theory you shouldn't have to prepare for a test in a class any more than you have to prepare for a blood test. In theory you learn from taking the class, from going to the lectures and doing the reading and/or assignments, and the test that comes afterward merely measures how well you learned.

In practice, as almost everyone reading this will know, things are so different that hearing this explanation of how classes and tests are meant to work is like hearing the etymology of a word whose meaning has changed completely. In practice, the phrase "studying for a test" was almost redundant, because that was when one really studied. The difference between diligent and slack students was that the former studied hard for tests and the latter didn't. No one was pulling all-nighters two weeks into the semester.

To many people, it would seem strange that the preceding sentence has a "though" in it. Aren't I merely stating a tautology? Isn't that what a diligent student is, a straight-A student? That's how deeply the conflation of learning with grades has infused our culture.


It doesn’t matter how fast you move if it’s in a worthless direction. Picking the right thing to work on is the most important element of productivity and usually almost ignored. So think about it more! Independent thought is hard but it’s something you can get better at with practice.

The most impressive people I know have strong beliefs about the world, which is rare in the general population. If you find yourself always agreeing with whomever you last spoke with, that’s bad. You will of course be wrong sometimes, but develop the confidence to stick with your convictions. It will let you be courageous when you’re right about something important that most people don’t see.

By the way, here is an important lesson about delegation: remember that everyone else is also most productive when they’re doing what they like, and do what you’d want other people to do for you—try to figure out who likes (and is good at) doing what, and delegate that way.

The myth of the golden age of reading

Young Girl Reading by Fragonard c 1770 © Wikimedia commons

Attention spans are getting shorter. We no longer have the patience to read properly. The printed codex is a dead technology and the future is browsing ebooks and hyperlinked webpages. Listening to an audiobook isn’t as good as reading a proper book. These are some common arguments you hear. But are they right? Leah Price, an English scholar at Harvard, says we’re too quick to assume that there was a golden age of reading from which we have declined.

With the rise of audiobooks there’s been a debate over whether listening to a book means you have really read it. Again, though, when literacy rates were much lower, it would have been quite normal for people to listen to books being read aloud.

It could also be a mark of status. If you were an aristocrat whose servant stood behind the chair and read aloud to you while you were having your hair powdered, this would be a form of conspicuous consumption. Although, it could also take the form of a group of semi-literate working-class men having the newspaper read aloud to them in the pub. The resurgence of reading aloud can be explained in large part by the problem of finding time in stolen moments. Since the early 19th century, the commute has been one of the great moments of reading. The great age of the newspaper in the 19th century is also the great age of the railroad. And you can see the audiobook is filling the space occupied earlier by the newspaper on the train.

The not-so-secret life of a TikTok-famous teen

TikTok stars. These people, most visibly teenagers, have found huge audiences on the nascent app known for short video posts, and Haley is one of them. Back in April, under the username @yodeling.karen — Karen is her middle name; “yodeling” references an old meme page she used to follow — Haley uploaded a video of herself dancing that went viral. A few weeks later, she made a video about celebrities who look like her and that went viral, too. After that, the hits came easier, and today she has just over 100,000 followers.

They’re the popular kids who trade in irony and internet in-jokes and make money simply by having more fun than everybody else. That money is far easier to make on YouTube than it is on TikTok thanks to YouTube’s monetization platform AdSense, through which video creators generate revenue through pre-roll advertisements. Vine, meanwhile, never built tools for users to monetize their followings, and so the most industrious Viners defected to YouTube even before the service shut down. The most common way to make money on TikTok, meanwhile, remains livestreaming, during which viewers can purchase and send to their favorite creators digital coins that can then be cashed out for real money. This isn’t something people are really doing, though, and thus has not translated into a meaningful source of revenue; not even users with millions of fans are seeing real returns. So far, Haley has collected $17.

The Social Subsidy of Angel Investing

Seibel’s explanation is that there’s more FOMO among Angel investors in the Bay Area than elsewhere, because there’s been more success here. If you’re an early stage investor in SF, you’ve probably passed on a bunch of companies that have gone on to become wildly successful. People in SF have more experience with upside regret. As Austen Allred put it, “The most important experience to have in Silicon Valley is to see someone incredibly smart start a company, think to yourself, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,’ and watch them become wildly successful.”

This is absolutely correct, by the way. But it’s not the whole answer. The difference in angel investing between Silicon Valley and everywhere else isn’t just a difference in perceived risk/reward or a difference in FOMO. It’s that angel investing fulfils a completely different purpose in Silicon Valley than it does elsewhere. It’s not just a financial activity; it’s a social status exercise.

Angel Investors in the Bay Area aren’t just in it for the financial returns; they’re also in it for the social returns.

When an olympian has no grit

When ranked from fastest to slowest, better runners weren’t any grittier than their slower counterparts. A national champion was just as likely to score low in grit as a walk-on was to score high.

What was going on?

As I searched for answers, talking to different athletes and coaches about why they answered the way they did, a pattern emerged. Stories were the driver. When asked about their reasoning, they’d recall instances where they overcame a challenge, or ‘gave in’ instead of pushed through. The national champion who rated themselves low would get caught up on how they had ‘choked’ at an NCAA championship or an Olympic Trials, not even registering the dozens of other performances where they exceeded expectations.

Our perception of grit, toughness, resilience, or whatever attribute you want to evaluate is heavily influenced by memories of the spectacularly good and the spectacularly bad. And when it comes to evaluating ourselves, the best of the best are often far harsher than the rest of us. We get caught in a myopic view of the world, where finishing 6th in the country is an abject failure. And all of a sudden, the story that stays with us is that we have no ‘grit.’

We hang on to moments of failure as if they define who we are. But they don’t.

How retail workers deal with nonstop Christmas music without going nuts


For Sean, a 13-year retail veteran, the worst part of the holiday shopping season isn’t the increased crowds, rude customers or cold weather. It’s the nonstop Christmas music — eight hours a day, every day. Worse yet, at Sean’s store, the holiday cheer begins on November 1st. “An hour into the first day, I’m already nuts,” the 40-year-old tells me.

More to Check Out: 
How Radar Works
The world needs more search engines.
Reddit’s 2019 Year in Review
Sham news sites make big bucks from fake views
How do managers* get stuck?


Cool companies:

Interesting people:

My Update:

  • I am hiring (engineers). Really interesting/important work to be done. Reach out if you/friends are interested.

  • Will be in NY over New Years. Let me know if you are around!

If you enjoy the newsletter, you can Venmo me a tip: @jordangonen or on the web here. Really appreciate the support! - Jordan