Josh Kaufman

Bestselling Author, Business & Self-Education


The Best Essays I Read in 2015

As part of my annual review process, I took a few hours to look through my research database for great essays and blog posts I read in 2015. Major research topics this year included business, entrepreneurship, learning, skill acquisition, productivity, psychology, health, science, systems, wisdom, and general life satisfaction. 1

Of the 1,221 posts I saved, here are a few of the best. (You can also browse my selections from 2014, 2013, and 2012.)

Nate Soares: "Half-Assing It With Everything You've Got"

If you want to be highly effective, remember what you're fighting for. […]

Your preferences are not "move rightward on the quality line." Your preferences are to hit the quality target with minimum effort… Half-ass everything, with everything you've got.

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Kevin Simler: "The Economics of Social Status"

As an economic good, social status is a lot like health. They're both intangible and highly personal. In proper economic terms, they are private goods — rivalrous and mostly excludable. And the fact that they're hard to measure doesn't make them any less valuable — in fact we spend trillions of dollars a year in their pursuit (though they often elude us).

But status differs from health in one very important respect: It can be transacted — spent as well as earned. It's not a terminal good, but rather an intermediate good that helps us acquire other things of value. For example, I can trade some of my status for money, favors, sex, or information — and vice versa.

Health, if it's possible to spend at all (e.g. in pursuit of career success), is extremely illiquid. But as I will argue today, status is so liquid — so easy to transact, and in real time — that it plays a fundamental economic role in our day-to-day lives.

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The followup to this essay, Social Status: Down the Rabbit Hole, is also fantastic and worth reading.

Joana Wiebe: "The Diva List, Or How I Found Happiness As A Freelance Copywriter"

I have something called a Diva List. It’s a list of requirements to meet before I’ll take on a freelance copywriting (or consulting) gig.

The point isn’t to make demands for the sake of it. I use the Diva List – and encourage you to use it – to play the game that clients are secretly begging us to play with them.

Because here’s something I’ve learned in my 10+ years of freelancing: The harder it is to hire you, the more your best prospects will want to hire you.

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Jason Cohen: "Why It’s Nice To Compete Against A Large, Profitable Company"

A company with a large, profitable, growing revenue stream betrays facts useful to a startup: There’s a huge market to be had (else it wouldn’t be large and growing). This market is willing to pay far more than cost for this product (else profits wouldn’t be generated). This abundance will last for a while (large, profitable businesses typically die a slow, sagging death rather than disappearing in a flash).

This means the market is ripe for an Innovator’s Dilemma-style disruption. A startup with new cost structures, new technology, and new ideas can compete with a good-enough product at 1/2, 1/4, or possibly even 1/10th the price, and start cleaning up.

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Laura Roeder: "Why Growth Spurts Aren’t the Best Thing For Your Business – and What You Should Focus On Instead"

When it comes to your business, bigger isn’t always better – and growth you can’t sustain is a ticking time bomb. […]

Depending solely on customers to confirm the value of your business in actual dollars may be frustrating at first, but it necessitates a keen sense of what you need to do to become profitable and stay profitable. (Sustainability, remember?)

Staying focused on your own standards and goals – instead of trying to meet what you imagine are someone else’s – helps you make decisions that are healthier for your business.

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Derek Sivers: "Relax For The Same Result"

I’m usually so damn driven, always doing everything as intensely as I can. It was so nice to take it easy for once. I felt I could do this forever, without any exhaustion. […]

[A]pparently all of that exhausting, red-faced, full-on push-push-push I had been doing only gave me a 4% boost.

I could just take it easy, and get 96% of the results.

And what a difference in experience! To go the same distance, in about the same time, but one way leaves me exhausted, and the other way rejuvenated.

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Sam Altman / Y Combinator: "The Startup Playbook"

Your goal as a startup is to make something users love. If you do that, then you have to figure out how to get a lot more users. But this first part is critical—think about the really successful companies of today. They all started with a product that their early users loved so much they told other people about it. If you fail to do this, you will fail. If you deceive yourself and think your users love your product when they don’t, you will still fail.

The startup graveyard is littered with people who thought they could skip this step.

It’s much better to first make a product a small number of users love than a product that a large number of users like. Even though the total amount of positive feeling is the same, it’s much easier to get more users than to go from like to love.

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Paul Graham: "Default Alive or Default Dead?"

When I talk to a startup that's been operating for more than 8 or 9 months, the first thing I want to know is almost always the same. Assuming their expenses remain constant and their revenue growth is what it's been over the last several months, do they make it to profitability on the money they have left? Or to put it more dramatically, by default do they live or die?

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David Heinemeier Hansson: "The Day I Became A Millionaire"

I remember the weeks leading up to that day when the numbers in my checking account suddenly swelled dramatically. They were anxious. I stood at the doorsteps of The Dream. A lifetime of expectations about how totally, utterly awesome it would be to be a millionaire. I’d be able to buy all the computers and cameras I ever wanted and any car I desired!

<p>One of the other underlying pillars of this dream was the concept of <em>Never Having To Work Again</em>. Like somehow an eternity of leisure was going to provide the existential bliss I had been longing for all along. I thought about that a lot. I did all the math: Hey, if I stuff all the money in a prudent mix of stock and bonds, I should be able to live a comfortable, if not extravagant, lifestyle until the end of my days without lifting another finger.</p>
<p>The euphoria I felt when it was finally real lasted the rest of that day. The inner smile remained super wide for at least the rest of the week…</p>
<p>Then a mild crisis of faith ensued. Is this it? Why isn’t the world any different now? <em><em>shake, shake</em></em> Is this thing even working!?</p>

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Ben Casnocha: "10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman: What I Learned"

Every decision has tradeoffs: when you choose to do one thing it means you choose not do some other thing. When you choose to optimize a choice on one factor, it means necessarily suboptimizing on another factors. Reid faced tradeoffs in his life that were heavier than the ones you or I face. Imagine you could meet anyone, from the President of the United States on down. Do almost anything you can think of – from saving the local opera company from bankruptcy to traveling to the farthest outposts on earth in total luxury. A small number of humans have virtually no constraints on their decision-making, and Reid is one of them.

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Jason Fried: "Do You Have To Love What You Do?"

Attend enough startup conferences or listen to enough motivational speakers and you’ll hear one piece of advice repeated over and over again: You’ve got to love what you do! If you don’t love what you do, you might as well stay home. No less a giant than Steve Jobs famously told Stanford’s 2005 graduating class, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

<p>I don’t buy it.</p>

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James Clear: "6 Truths About Exercise That Nobody Wants to Believe"

Success in the gym, as with most things in life, comes down to mastering the basics. […]

<p>While most people waste time debating the endless stream of supplements, “new” workout programs, and diet plans, all you really have to do is focus on these simple concepts and you’ll see results.</p>

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Garrett Dimon: "Thoughts on Self-employment and Family"

Whenever people talk about starting businesses, one of the most common deterrents people bring up is having a family to support. While being cautious and making sure not to put your family at risk is important, this fear assumes that there are only downsides. That couldn’t be further from the truth. […]

<p>Building a business isn’t easy, but it’s not as dramatic, terrible, and exhausting as most glamorized stories would have you believe. With careful planning, patience, and a family that’s on board, it can actually be easier and more enjoyable when setting out with the support and motivation of your spouse and children.</p>

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Paul Armstrong: "So You Want To Have Kids…"

Before you wander into lifelong parenthoodery, here are some things to consider (that maybe you’ve been told, maybe you haven’t).

<p>There’s no such thing as being “ready”.</p>
<p>You can’t be ready for something you can’t know. There is no ready. There is only the decision to have a child or not to have a child. That’s all preparation you can possibly possess. […]</p>
<p>If you have the slightest hestation about the long sacrifice that is parenthood, please don’t have a child. Having a child is not a requirement. It might seem like there isn’t anything positive about parenthood, but that’s because you need to adjust your expectations about parenthood. If you want to feel good about yourself, volunteer your time helping others. Parenthood isn’t about making yourself feel good. Parenthood is not about your child becoming your identity. Parenthood is about creating an nuturing environment for your child so that they will transform into a functional adult who (you hope) will make the world a better place. If you do this, there will come a day when your child becomes your friend.</p>

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1. Programming was a major interest this year, as it has been since I learned web application programming while writing The First 20 Hours in 2013. Technical posts were not included in this digest. I also set aside excellent essays and posts related to the more technical aspects of my own business (writing, publishing, teaching, etc) to make this digest more applicable to the interests of my readers.


Published: December 31, 2015 Last updated: December 31, 2015

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