Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
In everywhere from Plutarch’s Lives to Seneca’s Letters and Virgil’s Aeneid, there’s mention of the 3rd century BC Roman general, Fabius Maximus. Nicknamed the Cunctator, “the Delayer” or “the Procrastinator,” he was revered for defeating the invasion of Hannibal by not giving battle. His strategy involved, Plutarch writes, “wearing out and wasting the vigor of Hannibal’s arms by lapse of time.” After some fifteen years of campaigning against the Cunctator, Hannibal sailed back to Carthage. So, the poet Ennius would write, “one man, by delaying, restored the state to us.” Lately, I’ve been thinking about where the best course of action is nonaction, delay, procrastinating, letting time lapse, the Fabian strategy…
A Mother’s Instinct Come True
In Antifragile, Nassim Taleb spends a chapter on the costs of what he calls “naive interventionism”—the urge to intervene and help a system that would be better off without intervention. The word for the damage from undergoing treatment is iatrogenics, “caused by the healer.” When I was in 8th grade, I started seeing doctors because I still hadn’t bloomed. After a series of MRI’s found that I did not have any tumors preventing my growth and puberty, doctors urged my parents to put me on steroids to maybe or maybe not help the process. My parents decided to not put me on steroids. Without intervention, throughout high school, I grew about a foot. When I recently asked them about opting for a kind of Cunctator strategy of letting time lapse without intervention, my Mom said, “The whole time I was thinking that you were just a late bloomer…a mother’s instinct come true.”
Fiddle With Fewer Nobs
Morgan Housel, author of The Psychology of Money, talks about why people like to overcomplicate things in finance and investing. 1) The more complex something is, the more intellectually stimulating it is, and people drawn to finance and investing tend to have some intellectual horsepower—they want to use it, so simple strategies aren’t very attractive. 2) In a lot of fields, there is a correlation between effort and results, and people assume that’s true or want that to be true about investing. “There isn’t any evidence,” Morgan says, “that in investing, on average, the harder you try, the better you do…I think the evidence is actually the opposite: if you fiddle with fewer knobs, make fewer moves and decisions, make it more simple, and are patient, you will on average do much better over time.” But this kind of Fabian approach to investing, he says, “is too boring and too simple for people to take seriously, so they try to make it more exciting and complicated.”
Take A Break From Worrying
Mathematicians often refer to their job as “worrying about an idea.” One mathematician, for example, Dan Rockmore, analogizes his job to “a dog worrying a bone, chewing at it to get to the marrow—the rich, meaty part.” In a piece in the New Yorker, after a number of anecdotes about mathematicians having a creative breakthrough when they weren’t worrying about their ideas, Rockmore writes, “an initial period of concentration—conscious, directed attention—needs to be followed by some amount of unconscious processing…the key to solving a problem is to take a break from worrying, to move the problem to the back burner, to let the unwatched pot boil.”
Regularly Do Nothing
During the season in which the Chicago Cubs went on to win their first World Series title in 108 years, Cubs manager Joe Maddon began implementing “American Legion Week.” The standard in the MLB had always been for players to get to the ballpark early every day, to take batting practice, and prepare for a game hours before the first pitch. In a 162-game season, this is “non-productive” and “inappropriate” Maddon said. Does a professional baseball player really need to take swings and field grounders every day? Might it be better if they showed up fresh for game time? Maddon thought so. So for a week in August, the home stretch of the season, the dog days, usually after a long stretch on the road required his players to sleep in, take a nap, do nothing, don’t think about baseball, to treat the game like when they were just a kid that showed up and played. When they treat it that way, Maddon said, “it keeps their minds fresher. And if their minds are fresher, they’ll play a better game.”
Surround The Narrative With Nothing
Seth Godin was asked about his meditation practice. “It’s sloppy,” he said. “It’s nothing worth writing home about.” I disagree. He is not routine about it. He doesn’t meditate at a set time or place. He only meditates when he needs it, and that’s when and where he does it. When his mind isn’t clear, he said, “when the narrative is getting in the way of what’s actually happening”—that’s when Godin meditates. Because, he said, “you need to make it so that the narrative gently backs off. It’s really hard to yell at the narrative and make it back off right away, because that just makes the narrative louder. So instead, I will undermine it by making it surrounded by nothing until it melts away.” Until, like Hannibal, it sails away, we might say.