The Best Essays I Read in 2012
As part of my Year-End Review process, I took a few hours to look back in my research database for great essays and blog posts I’ve read this year. Of the 1,374 posts I’ve saved, here are 12 of the best.
We generated [this checklist] by asking ourselves, not what rationality content it’s useful to understand, but what rationality-related actions (or thinking habits) it’s useful to actually do… This checklist is meant for your personal use so you can have a wish-list of rationality habits, and so that you can see if you’re acquiring good habits over the next year — it’s not meant to be a way to get a ‘how rational are you?’ score, but, rather, a way to notice specific habits you might want to develop.
Surely, if life means anything at all, it means that each of us is entrusted with a certain irreplaceable fund of hours and weeks and years. To let anybody and everybody fritter that fund away is as if the trustee of an estate were to deposit the estate’s funds in a bank and issue check books to whoever applied… In my easy-going willingness to befriend the world at large, I was sacrificing my wife, my children, and my employer far more than I was sacrificing myself… What was true of my family was true of the business as well. I thought I was being friendly to the customers of the house. As a matter of fact, I was too often being friendly to the customers at the expense of the house. It is a common fault in salesmen. They let a thousand trivial demands on the part of the men to whom they sell take their time and energy from the business of the men for whom they sell.
Imagine that you’ve invested years of blood, sweat and tears at work, and have successfully climbed the corporate ladder, only to wake up one day and realize that you sort of hate what you’re doing. Sure, you used to love it, and the more successful you became, the higher up the ranks of management you went. But now, instead of doing the hands-on work that you loved, you find yourself buried in managerial tasks like budgeting and supervising people that leave you feeling numb at best. You find yourself in the ironic position where all your hard work and success have landed you in a job that leaves you feeling empty, frustrated, and unfulfilled. That’s what happened to me. But how? Or better yet, why?
As the Third Basic Law explicitly clarifies: A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses. When confronted for the first time with the Third Basic Law, rational people instinctively react with feelings of skepticism and incredulity. The fact is that reasonable people have difficulty in conceiving and understanding unreasonable behaviour. But let us abandon the lofty plane of theory and let us look pragmatically at our daily life… Our daily life is mostly, made of cases in which we lose money and/or time and/or energy and/or appetite, cheerfulness and good health because of the improbable action of some preposterous creature who has nothing to gain and indeed gains nothing from causing us embarrassment, difficulties or harm. Nobody knows, understands or can possibly explain why that preposterous creature does what he does. In fact there is no explanation - or better there is only one explanation: the person in question is stupid.
How I view and interact with money has evolved through several distinct stages. I’m explicitly trying to not make value judgments on these perceptions, but merely just relate them… The most consistent theme in my perceptions of money over time has been valuing my time, and that is as true as ever. I’ve always loved services that improve my productivity and workflow, but now I seek them out as much as possible… It’s taken a few months, and I’m still as cheap and cost-sensitive as always, but now I am willing to expend on people when I see the value, especially when it is either something that can replace my time, is on critical path for DuckDuckGo, or is laying the ground-work for being around for the long-term.
Beyond the analytical breakdown, I have an emotional attachment to this number, because whenever someone cancels I think about what had to happen to get them to this point, and it kills me. Of course people cancel only after they’re already a customer, which means they’ve already gotten through the barriers preventing them from buying… Barely anyone on Earth will ever power through this gauntlet. I turn myself inside out just to get a thousand people to bounce off the home page, praying that one makes it through to the end, like a frog laying ten thousand eggs hoping three survive long enough to do the same. And then, after all that… they cancel! Son of a bitch! I have to know why and I have to do something about it!
By far the most difficult skill for me to learn as CEO was the ability to manage my own psychology. Organizational design, process design, metrics, hiring and firing were all relatively straightforward skills to master compared to keeping my mind in check. Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of CEOs all with the same experience. Nonetheless, very few people talk about it and I have never read anything on the topic. It’s like the fight club of management: The first rule of the CEO psychological meltdown is don’t talk about the psychological meltdown. At risk of violating the sacred rule, I will attempt to describe the condition and prescribe some techniques that helped me. In the end, this is the most personal and important battle that any CEO will face.
“How can I be more productive?" It’s a question that many of us ask ourselves without realizing that the question, as stated, is impossible to answer. Just as I prefer achievable goals, I prefer answerable questions. Here are 50+ better questions to ask than “how to be more productive." Some are different ways of saying the same things, but that’s a good thing.
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day… Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.
Wiio’s laws are humorously formulated serious observations about how human communication usually fails except by accident. This document comments on the applicability and consequences of the laws, especially as regards to communication on the Internet. Despite being entertaining, Wiio’s laws are valid observations about all human communication. For any constructive approach to communication, we need to admit their truth and build upon them, instead of comfortably exercising illusionary communication.
The infamous lists of “Things I’ll do if I ever become an Evil Overlord". Read them, and you’ll be Dangerously Genre Savvy, able to avoid dooms of many villains. Fail to read them, and your Genre Blindness will condemn you to pick up any Villain Ball you see, perhaps even demoting you to the rank of Harmless Villain, and failure will be your only option.
Urgency is in fact the natural way to prioritize. We do things first because they need to be done first. The farmer sows the seed and later the crop appears. At one time sowing becomes urgent and at another reaping. There is no possible way of saying that sowing is more important than reaping or vice versa… people tend to think of the degree of urgency a task has in terms of when the task needs to be finished, when in fact the urgency relates to when the task needs to be started.