Choose Your Role Models Carefully

Chose Your Role Models Carefully Heroes and role models are very useful—they embody a higher plateau of cognitive and emotional truth, knowledge, and accomplishment that you can aspire to.

But the modern world has a dangerous problem with hero-worship: pop artists, rappers, film stars, sportspersons, capitalists, and so on command attention and affection as never before. This 2013 Financial Times article noted, “Way back in 2008, the three most admired personalities in sport were probably Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius. They were portrayed not just as great athletes but as great men, role models….” And all these three popular heroes fell from grace.

While admiring and drawing wisdom, meaning, and inspiration from heroes can be constructive, you must take “hero narratives” with a grain of salt. The Buddha warned us not to trust anybody or anything just because it seems logical or it resonates with our feelings. He advised that we test our hypotheses by the results they yield when put into practice and shield our minds against the risk of biases or other limitations of our ability to discern from our experiences wisely. According to the Kalama Sutta, an aphorism of the historical Buddha that has been preserved orally by his followers (translated from the Pali by the eminent American Buddhist monk and prolific author Thanissaro Bhikkhu,)

Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’—then you should enter & remain in them.

Idea for Impact: Don’t blindly place much faith in today’s experts and celebrities. Realize the truth yourself.

The Fermi Rule: Better be Approximately Right than Precisely Wrong

What’s the size of the market for razors in China? How many golf balls does it take to fill a Boeing 747 aircraft? How many piano tuners are there in the world?

Non-standard problems such as these are called “Fermi problems” after the distinguished Italian-American nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi (1901–54.) Fermi delighted not only in creating and solving them, but also in challenging his fellow scientists with similar problems.

The Fermi Rule: Better be Approximately Right than Precisely Wrong

Physicist Enrico Fermi Was a Master of Guesstimation

Fermi was celebrated for his ability to make fast, excellent approximate calculations with little or no concrete data. In one well-known example, when the first atomic bomb was detonated during the Manhattan Project, Fermi dropped a few scraps of paper as the shock wave from the detonation passed. After some coarse calculation, Fermi estimated the power of the blast from the motion of the scraps as they fell. Fermi’s guesstimate of 10 kilotons of TNT was remarkably close to the now-established value of 20 kilotons. Even though Fermi’s estimate appears 50% off, it was a reasonable order-of-magnitude estimate.

Fermi believed that the ability to guesstimate was an essential skill for physicists. A good way to solve physics problems—and complex problems in any line of work—is by coming up with simple shortcuts to make approximate, but meaningful, calculations.

Teaching Physics Students the Fermi Way of Contemplating Open, Non-Standard Problems

Based on Fermi’s technique, at the beginning of many physics courses, professors pose problems such as “how many piano tuners are there in Chicago?” Such questions require students to employ quick reasoning and unsophisticated numerical methods to attack problems without the knowledge of any core physics concepts.

The historical emphasis on the order-of-magnitude calculation was propelled by the lack of computing power available to solve complex problems. Such approximate calculations were considered necessary to decide if an onerous and lengthy full-blown calculation was required.

Classic Fermi Problem: Number of Piano Tuners in the City of Chicago

'Guesstimation' by Lawrence Weinstein (ISBN 069115080X) Fermi problems are typically restructured by breaking them up into smaller problems that are easier for the students to approach than the original problem.

The challenge of estimating the number of piano tuners in the city of Chicago is the classical example of a Fermi Problem. A problem-solver guesstimates the total population of Chicago, then the fraction of families in Chicago that may own a piano, and the frequency of piano-tuning, the time it takes to tune a piano, and so on. This sequence of thinking, accompanied by a few conversion factors, can lead to an adequate assessment of the number of piano tuners in Chicago.

Back-of-Envelope Calculations for Fermi Problems

The Fermi technique is so popular that math buffs organize competitions in Fermi’s honor. Contestants are asked to estimate unusual assessments (the fraction of the surface area of the United States that’s covered by automobiles, the number of cells in the human body, the number of pizzas ordered this year in the state of California, for example) as closely as they can.

One distinctive feature of Fermi problems is that precision is impossible to achieve quickly, but it’s easier to arrive at a fast estimate of the range for the right answer. Before investing a big effort to measure something with precision, problem-solvers can estimate the answer approximately—and only then determine if it’s sensible to do the extra steps to calculate the accurate answers.

The Ability to Guesstimate: A Key Problem-Solving Aptitude

The ability to reach first-order estimations is an important skill in daily life. In a world where we are continuously bombarded with qualitative and quantitative information (and disinformation,) acquiring a solid grounding in numeric literacy has almost become an important intellectual obligation.

'Street-Fighting Mathematics' by Sanjoy Mahajan (ISBN 026251429X) Many problems are too complicated for you to come up with an accurate answer immediate. In analyzing such problems, precision may be impossible, but you can quickly estimate a range for the right answer. Guesstimation enables anyone with basic math and science skills to estimate virtually anything quickly using realistic assumptions and elementary mathematics.

Microsoft, McKinsey Consulting, Google, Goldman Sachs, and many leading businesses use guesstimate questions in job interviews to judge the ability of the applicants’ intelligence, their flexibility to think on their feet, and to apply their numerical skills to real-world problems.

Idea for Impact: Use Effective Guesstimation Techniques Before Undertaking a More Complete and Formal Investigation

Learn to do a first approximation of value and then, if the problem merits, refine your estimate further for much nuanced decision-making. Before putting much effort into calculating anything with precision, make a rough estimate of the answer, then decide whether it’s worth investigating further.

In my line of work as an investor, for example, I use fund manager Eddy Elfenbein‘s “simple stock valuation measure”:

Growth Rate/2 + 8 = PE Ratio

Let me emphasize that this is simply a quick-and-dirty valuation tool and it shouldn’t be used as a precise measure of a stock’s value. But when I’m first looking at a stock and want to see roughly how it’s priced, this is what I’ll use.

For example, let’s look at Pfizer ($PFE). Wall Street expects the company to earn $2.34 per share next year. They also see the company’s 5-year growth rate at 2.79%. If we take half the growth rate and add 8, that gives us a fair value P/E Ratio of 9.40. Multiplying that by the $2.34 estimate gives us a fair price for Pfizer of $21.98. The current price for Pfizer is $22.98, so it’s about fairly priced.

Let’s look at IBM ($IBM) which has a higher growth rate. Wall Street sees IBM earning $16.61 next year. They peg the five-year growth rate at 10.58%. Our formula gives us a fair value multiple of 13.29, and that multiplied by $16.61 works out to a value of $220.75. IBM is currently at $201.71.

Recommended Resources for Guesstimation

If you’re interviewing with one of those companies that use guesstimate questions in job interviews, or if you’re interested in developing your ability to make rough, common-sense estimates starting from just a few basic facts, I recommend the following learning resources:

Become a Smart, Restrained Communicator Like Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, America’s founding father, statesman, and polymath, was a doyen of the self-improvement movement. His methods for self-mastery are worth taking a serious look at if you’re interested in getting better at anything in life.

In his wonderful Autobiography (1791,) Franklin discusses his once-foolish delight in spinning artful arguments and doggedly winning over his opponents.

Winning an Argument Aggressively is but a Short-term Ego Victory

'The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin' by Benjamin Franklin (ISBN 1492720941) As a young man, Franklin had a habit of fervently arguing his case in all matters and alienating people around him. He frequently ensnared his challengers with hard-hitting rhetoric:

I found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took a delight in it, practis’d it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved.

However, Franklin ultimately recognized that his take-no-prisoners approach of arguing was by no means endearing him to other people. His realized that his brash way of outwitting his challengers had been self-defeating.

Benjamin Franklin, Doyen of the Self-improvement Movement

Arguing, if it is to Be Constructive, Must Be Done Tactfully

In an attempt to develop amenable character traits, Franklin radically improved the way he interacted with others. He let go of all expressions of conceit and bold self-confidence. He stopped using words such as “certainly” and “undoubtedly” in his speaking and replaced them with phrases that signified personal opinions—for instance, “It appears to me, or I should think it so or so for such & such Reasons, or I imagine it to be so, or it is so if I am not mistaken.”

I continu’d this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engag’d in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner, you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire. [Alexander] Pope says, judiciously:

“Men should be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown propos’d as things forgot;”

farther recommending to us

“To speak, tho’ sure, with seeming diffidence.”

Learn to Resolve Important Issues through Sensible Discourse

'How to Win Friends & Influence People' by Dale Carnegie (ISBN 0671027034) Franklin realized that this measured conversation and gentler interactions was helpful in preventing conflicts and softening resistance in those he wanted to influence. He writes, “This Habit, I believe, has been of great Advantage to life, when I have had occasion to inculcate my Opinions & persuade Men into Measures I have been from time to time engag’d in promoting.”

This rule of skilful conversation and interpersonal relationships later became one of the foundational principles in Dale Carnegie‘s masterful self-help manual How to Win Friends and Influence People—specifically, that our ticket to success in life is the ability to make others feel good about themselves.

Persuasion is Not About Outmaneuvering Others and Proving Them Wrong

The ability to communicate effectively, plead your case, and influence others is one of the most useful skills for succeeding in the modern world.

  • Learn to resolve important issues through sensible and mindful discourse.
  • Be assertive where you must, but never aggressive.
  • Be open-minded, understand the other person’s perspective, and keep your emotions under control.
  • Never insult, disgrace, or cause the other person to lose face.

Views, opinions, and judgments can differ, and these can and should be discussed civilly. However, to debate such differences vigorously so as to cause bad feelings toward is not necessary and is almost always counterproductive.

Idea for Impact: Arguing for the sake of deciding a winner is never constructive. When an argument starts, persuasion stops.

Lessons on Adversity from Charlie Munger: Be a Survivor, Not a Victim

Lessons on Adversity from Charlie Munger: Be a Survivor, Not a Victim

Munger: One of the Most Respected Business Thinkers in History

Berkshire Hathaway’s Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger (b. 1924) is a distinguished beacon of rationality, wisdom, and multi-disciplinary thinking. As Warren Buffett’s indispensable right-hand man, Munger has been a prominent behind-the-scenes intellectual who has created billions of shareholder wealth.

'Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger' by Peter Bevelin (ISBN 1578644283) The story of Charlie Munger’s life is an archetypal American Dream: a hardworking, principled young man overcomes life’s trials and tribulations, and builds a billion-dollar fortune through industry, diligence, candor, and an obsession with self-improvement. Munger is also a prominent philanthropist. He preferred to donate his money now rather than give it as a bequest with the intention of appreciating the results of his giving. After donating $110 million to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Munger said, “I’m soon going to be departed from all of my money, why not give more of it away while I get the fun of giving it?”

“Horrible Blows, Unfair Blows” on the Road to Success

Munger’s sharp mind, irreverent, outspoken outlook, and commonsense-thinking are legendary. For fans who flock to Omaha to witness him and Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting, the 92-year old Munger remains a cult figure.

At age 17, Munger attended the University of Michigan but dropped out to enlist in the military during World War II. After the war, he entered Harvard Law School without an undergraduate degree and graduated in 1948 with a J.D. magna cum laude. He started practicing law in Los Angeles, but gave up his practice at the urging of Warren Buffett to concentrate on managing investments and developing real estate. He never took a course in business, economics, or finance but became a billionaire. He ascribes most of his “worldly wisdom” to his zeal for self-improvement (identical to his idol Benjamin Franklin) and plenteous reading. He once said, “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time—none, zero. … My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”

Even if Munger remains an inspiration for a life well lived, his life has not been entirely perfect. Consider some of the struggles he coped with on his pathway to success.

  • 'Damn Right - Charlie Munger' by Janet Lowe (ISBN 0471446912) At age 29, in 1954, Munger got divorced from his wife after eight years of marriage. Munger lost everything to his wife including his home in South Pasadena. According to Janet Lowe’s insightful biography Damn Right, Munger moved into “dreadful bachelor digs” at Pasadena’s University Club and drove an “awful” yellow Pontiac with a shoddy repaint job. That car made him “look as if he had not two pennies to say hello to each other.” When daughter Molly Munger probed, “Daddy, this car is just awful, a mess. Why do you drive it?” The impoverished Munger replied, “To discourage gold diggers.”
  • The financial pressure came at a testing time. A short time after the divorce, Munger’s 9-year old son Teddy was diagnosed with leukemia. At that time, cancer survival rates were insignificant and Munger had to pay for everything out-of-pocket because there was no health insurance. According to his friend Rick Guerin, Munger would visit the hospital when his son “was in bed and slowly dying, hold him for a while, then go out walking the streets of Pasadena crying.” Teddy died a year later in 1955.
  • Many years later, Munger had a horrific cataract surgery in his left eye that rendered him blind with pain so severe that he eventually had that eye removed. Recently, when doctors notified Munger that he had developed a condition that was causing his remaining eye to fill up with blood, he stood the risk of losing his vision in his other eye too. Being the obsessive reader that he is, the prospect of losing eyesight entirely made Munger comment, “Losing the ability to see would seem to be a prison sentence.” Undeterred, Munger was ready to brace himself for what life had to offer. He told a friend, “It’s time for me to learn braille” and started taking lessons. As luck would have it, the worrisome eye condition has since receded.

Charlie Munger on Confronting Adversity and Building Resilience

  • Adversity, hardship, and misfortune can cause people to conceive themselves as a victim of circumstances. Munger once remarked, “Whenever you think that some situation or some person is ruining your life, it’s actually you who are ruining your life. It’s such a simple idea. Feeling like a victim is a perfectly disastrous way to go through life. If you just take the attitude that however bad it is in anyway, it’s always your fault and you just fix it as best you can … I think that really works.”
  • People who choose to react as victims surrender themselves to feelings of being betrayed or taken advantage of. The resulting anger, repulsion, fear, guilt, and inadequacy are futile. Munger once said, “Generally speaking, envy, resentment, revenge, and self-pity are disastrous modes of thought; self-pity gets pretty close to paranoia, and paranoia is one of the very hardest things to reverse; you do not want to drift into self-pity.”
  • Feeling victimized and the ensuing negative thinking patterns are hard to break, but the recovery process encompasses disremembering and forgiving the past, regulating the flawed perspective of the routine ups and downs of life, and taking control and gaining power. In his 2007 commencement speech at University of Southern California’s Law School, Munger said, “Life will have terrible blows in it … horrible blows, unfair blows. And some people recover and others don’t. And there I think the attitude of Epictetus is the best. He said that every missed chance in life was an opportunity to behave well, every missed chance in life was an opportunity to learn something, and that your duty was not to be submerged in self-pity, but to utilize the terrible blow in constructive fashion. That is a very good idea.”
  • In a 2011 interview, CNN journalist Poppy Harlow asked if Munger felt betrayed by David Sokol, Buffett’s then heir-apparent who violated company standards during Berkshire Hathaway’s purchase of Lubrizol and was let go. Munger conceded that Sokol’s conduct left him sad, but not let down. “It’s not my nature … when you get little surprises as a result of human nature … to spend much time feeling betrayed. I always want to put my head down and adjust. I don’t allow myself to spend much time ever with any feelings of betrayal. If some flickering idea like that came to me, I’d get rid of it quickly. I don’t like any feeling of being victimized. I think that’s a counterproductive way to think as a human being. I am not a victim. I am a survivor.”

Playing a Victim is by No Means Beneficial or Adaptive

'Poor Charlie's Almanack' by Charlie Munger (ISBN 1578645018) Even in the face of some of the worst misfortunes that could strike you, suffering the resentments and attempting to endure pain are far superior choices than getting absorbed in feeling victimized and powerless.

Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl described how his fellow captives in Nazi concentration camps survived by enduring their sufferings and refusing to give in to feeling victimized. Even when stripped of all their rights and possessions, they exercised their enduring freedom to choose their attitudes and harnessed this freedom to sustain their spirits.

In his inspiring Man’s Search for Meaning (which is one of Munger’s many recommended books,) Frankl wrote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. … Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Lessons on Adversity from Charlie Munger

Idea for Impact: Come what may, you’re not a victim. It is up to you to determine your response.

  • Don’t operate life on the assumption that the world ought to be fair, just, and objective. You are neither entitled nor unentitled to good treatment.
  • Recognize that you cannot control, influence, or affect in any way the inequities, injustices, discriminations, and biases that populate the world. You have power over only your life and the choice of your attitudes.
  • Never feel sorry for yourself or engage in self-pity. Don’t dwell on a “poor-me stance” and consider yourself unfortunate. Don’t become loath to taking responsibility for your actions and the consequences. Stop playing the victim by recognizing and challenging those negative voices in your head. As the Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations, “Put from you the belief that ‘I have been wronged’, and with it will go the feeling. Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.”
  • When life knocks you over, allow yourself a modest amount of grieving. Then, gather yourself back together, get up, dust yourself down, renegotiate your hopes and dreams, align yourself with reality, put yourself back in the saddle, and get on with life. The ability to rebound quickly from failures and disappointments is one of the key differentiators between successful and unsuccessful people.
  • What’s important in life is not what happens to you but how you react to what happens.

Lessons on Self-Acceptance from Lee Kuan Yew: Life is What You Make of it

'From Third World to First: The Singapore Story' by Lee Kuan Yew (ISBN 0060197765) Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew (1923–2015) was one of the greatest statesmen of the post-WWII era. As Singapore’s quasi-authoritarian leader, Yew transformed his small, resource-poor city-state into an economic powerhouse. (I recommend Yew’s excellent memoir From Third World to First: The Singapore Story.)

Yew’s reply to a question about his perspective on the meaning of life (8:50-minute mark in this video) includes nuggets of wisdom on self-acceptance.

Life is what you make of it. You are dealt a pack of cards. Your DNA is fixed by your mother and your father … . Your job is to make the best of the cards that have been handed out to you. What can you do well? What can you not do well? What are you worse at?

If you ask me to make my living as an artist, I’ll starve, because I just can’t draw… . But if you ask me to do a mathematical question or to argue a point out, I’ll get by. Those are the cards I was handed out, and I make use of them.

Don’t try and do something you are not favored by nature to do.

Pursue Perfect Acceptance, Not a Perfect Life

One of the most effective ways to make positive change in life is to recognize and make peace with parts of yourself that are not innate (or “hard-wired”) in you. Robert Holden emphasized in Happiness Now, “Happiness and self-acceptance go hand in hand. In fact, your level of self-acceptance determines your level of happiness. The more self-acceptance you have, the more happiness you’ll allow yourself to accept, receive and enjoy. In other words, you enjoy as much happiness as you believe you’re worthy of.”

  • 'Now, Discover Your Strengths' by Marcus Buckingham (ISBN 0743201140) Know your limitations. Despite the nudging of countless motivational speeches, you can’t learn to be competent in everything you attempt or think you have a passion for. You can only be great at a few things. Recognize your flaws and do what you’re good at. Indeed, your strengths contain your greatest potential for growth. As Marcus Buckingham argued in his bestselling Now, Discover Your Strengths, discovering and pursuing your strengths is vital to being happier and more productive.
  • Learn to play the hand you’ve been dealt. Don’t engage in wishful thinking. Don’t cry out, “If I only life were different … if only these problems wouldn’t exist, I would …” One of the great realities of life—one that is difficult but important to acknowledge—is that you do not have as much control in life as you would like to have.

Idea for Impact: The key to self-improvement is self-acceptance. Accept reality. Accept yourself. Identify the limits of your abilities and your time and say no to things you know you can’t do well.

Lessons from Charlie Munger: Destroy Your Previous Ideas & Reexamine Your Convictions

Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger at Berkshire Hathaway's 2016 Annual Meeting (Screenshot from Yahoo! Finance webcast)

Reexamine your deep-rooted ideas

Here is one of the many nuggets of wisdom from the 2016 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting. At the 4:39:39 mark in the meeting’s webcast by Yahoo! Finance, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger discuss an effective strategy for persuasion and argumentation:

Charlie Munger: We try and avoid the worst anchoring effect which is always your previous conclusion. We really try and destroy our previous ideas.

Warren Buffett: Charlie says that if you disagree with somebody, you want to be able to state their case better than they can.

Charlie Munger: Absolutely.

Warren Buffett: And at that point you’ve earned the right to disagree with them.

Charlie Munger: Otherwise you should keep quiet. It would do wonders for our politics if everybody followed my system.

Actively seek counterarguments to consolidate your arguments

Munger’s advice comports with the following wisdom on using critique for reasoned judgments and critical thinking:

  • 'A Rulebook for Arguments' by Anthony Weston (ISBN 0872209547) Professor Anthony Weston, a contemporary exponent of critical thinking, wrote in his Rulebook for Arguments, “If you can’t imagine how anyone could hold the view you are attacking, you just don’t understand it yet.”
  • The great Roman philosopher and orator Cicero wrote in his influential work De Oratore (55 BCE, Eng. trans. On the Orator,) “The man who can hold forth on every matter under debate in two contradictory ways of pleading, or can argue for and against every proposition that can be laid down—such a man is the true, the complete, and the only orator.” [See my previous article on how to argue like the Wright brothers.]
  • Advocating observable evidence and rational investigation, the great English natural philosopher Francis Bacon wrote in his Novum Organum (1620,) “The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate.”

You cannot effectively argue for your side if you don’t comprehend the arguments of the other

'Poor Charlie's Almanack' by Charlie Munger (ISBN 1578645018) Once a belief is added to your collection of viewpoints, you indulge in “intellectual censorship”—you instinctively and unconsciously protect and defend it. You cling to your beliefs instead of objectively reassessing and questioning them. Moreover, owing to confirmation bias, you seek narratives that convey to you what you want to hear, substantiate your beliefs, and entitle you to continue to feel as you already do.

An important constituent of critical thinking is taking your beliefs and opinions apart methodically, analyzing each part, assessing it for soundness by means of arguments and counterarguments, and then improving it.

When you stop arguing against an opposite perspective and try arguing for it, that is to say when you can switch your point of view briefly, you will witness a profound shift in your thinking. Your own convictions may look different when seen from the opposite perspective. Justifying the counterarguments can help you reinforce your own beliefs and attitudes.

Idea for Impact: Only when your deep-rooted convictions and viewpoints are challenged by contradictory evidence, will your beliefs actually get stronger.

Make Decisions Using Bill Hewlett’s “Hat-Wearing Process”

“Reasons pro and con are not present at the same time”

My previous article about Ben Franklin’s T-Chart method in making difficult decisions quoted him mentioning this as a key challenge of fact-collecting and decision-making:

When difficult cases occur, they are difficult chiefly because while we have them under consideration all the reasons pro and con are not present to the mind at the same time; but sometimes one set present themselves, and at other times another, the first being out of sight. Hence the various purposes or inclinations that alternately prevail, and the uncertainty that perplexes us.

Bill Hewlett’s “Hat-Wearing Process”

Bill Hewlett's Bill Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard (HP,) developed an effective “hat-wearing process” in his decision-making. When confronted with a challenge, Hewlett used a three-pronged approach to take the time to reflect, collect input from others, and develop a sound judgment about the matter at hand.

  1. Whenever an HP employee approached Hewlett with an innovative idea, he put on his “enthusiasm” hat. He listened, expressed enthusiasm, appreciated the creative process, and asked wide-ranging but not-too-pointed questions about the idea.
  2. A few days later, Hewlett wore his “inquisition” hat and met the inventor. Hewlett asked many pointed questions and meticulously examined the facts and the virtues. He critically examined the idea, but adjourned without a final decision.
  3. A few days later, Hewlett wore his “decision” hat and met with the inventor. Hewlett discussed his opinions and conveyed his decision with logic and sensitivity.

In a discussion about the corporate culture of enthusiasm and creativity that the founders engendered at Hewlett-Packard, cofounder David Packard recalls in The HP Way (see my review / summary) that even if the decision went against the inventor, Bill Hewlett’s “Hat-Wearing Process” provided the inventor with a sense of satisfaction that Hewlett had carefully considered the ideas.

Idea for Impact: Make Considered Decisions

Use the “hat-wearing process” to listen to and mull over facts about a decision to be made, collect input from others, develop perspective that comes only with time, and make sound, thoughtful decisions.

Compliment with Edward de Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’ thought process to stimulate creativity.

Five Principles of Career Success from Intel’s Andy Grove

Andy Grove of Intel, born András István Gróf in Hungary

Andy Grove (1936–2016,) the illustrious cofounder and CEO of Intel, passed away earlier this year. Grove was arguably the most influential tech executive the Silicon Valley has ever seen. He achieved fame and success in his adopted country and provides an outstanding modern-day immigrant success story.

Modern-Day Immigrant Success Story

Born András István Gróf to a middle-class Jewish family in Hungary, he survived the Nazi occupation by taking a false name, hiding with Christian families, and escaping the heartbreaking fate of half a million Hungarian Jewish people. After the war, when the Russians occupied Hungary and installed a repressive Communist government, Grove’s father was forced to take up menial work despite having been emaciated from torture at a Nazi labor camp.

During the brutal response to the anti-Soviet 1956 Hungarian Revolution following Stalin’s death, Grove’s family hid themselves in a coal cellar whilst Soviet artillery shells destroyed their neighborhood. Grove joined a flood of people who took advantage of the pandemonium to walk across the border into Austria. He fled to the United States in 1957, arrived in New York with less than $20 in his pocket, and settled in with relatives.

Andrew Grove with Intel Founders Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce As a child, Grove was afflicted with scarlet fever and an ear infection that left him nearly deaf. In spite of his hearing impairment and an inadequate knowledge of English, he studied chemical engineering at the City College of New York and graduated at the top of his class. Grove learned to lip read and then deciphered his notes after class. He recalled to The New York Times in 1960, “I had to go over each day’s work again at night with a dictionary at my side.” He then earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Berkeley and joined Fairchild Semiconductor. When his managers Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce left Fairchild to start Intel, Grove went with them as director of engineering.

High Performance Management and Paranoia

'Only the Paranoid Survive' by Andrew S. Grove (ISBN 0385483821) Intel evolved swiftly. As President and later CEO, Grove brilliantly led Intel’s strategy and operations, established a near-monopoly on CPUs, and played a central role in the PC revolution. During this tenure as CEO from 1987–98, Intel’s stock price rose 32% a year. After relinquishing his role as Intel’s CEO in 1998 and as Chairman of the Board in 2005, he mentored prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Grove was famous for his rigorous, no-nonsense, confrontational, non-hierarchical management style; his approach still dominates the Silicon Valley culture. He zealously demanded high performance. In 2004, the Wharton School him the most influential business leader of the past quarter-century, over Microsoft’s Bill Gates, General Electric’s Jack Welch, and Walmart’s Sam Walton.

Grove was a conspicuous voice for reason in the immigration, offshoring, and jobs-creation debates. He was also a prolific author and public speaker. His autobiography Swimming Across (2001) recounts the first 20 years of his life—from childhood in Hungary up until his move to California. His other autobiography, Only the Paranoid Survive (1996,) describes how companies should deal with emergent competitors, transform themselves, and perhaps change the nature of the industry itself. Forbes magazine calls it “probably the best book on business written by a business person since Alfred Sloan’s My Years with General Motors.” High Output Management (1995) explained how to maximize productivity and has become a cult classic in Silicon Valley. One on One with Andy Grove (1988) compiles his “Dear Abby”-style newspaper Q&A column on work- and career-advice.

Five Principles of Career Success

'One-on-One With Andy Grove' by Andy Grove (ISBN 0140109358) Wrapping up One on One, Grove summarized his advice on career, management, and leadership with five suggestions:

  • FIRST—and this is very important—enjoy your work. It’s impossible to like all of it. Sometimes you’ll chafe under its unrelenting nature, other times you’ll be bored, but overall you must enjoy it. I am convinced that most people will like their work if they can see that what they do makes a difference and if they approach their work with a bit of zest, maybe even playfulness. Doing so introduces a bit of levity when it’s most needed and leads to camaraderie.
  • SECOND, be totally dedicated to the substance of your work, to the end result, the output; not how you got to it or whose idea it was or whether you look good or not.
  • THIRD, respect the work of all those who respect their own work, from vice presidents to sales clerks, from maintenance technicians to security officers. Nobody is unimportant: It takes all levels and all jobs to run a functioning organization.
  • FOURTH, be straight with everyone. I hate it when people are not honest with me, and I would hate myself if I weren’t straight with them. This isn’t an easy principle to stick to. There are always many reasons (better to call them excuses) to compromise a little here or there. We may reason that people are not ready to hear the truth or the bad news, that the time isn’t right, or whatever. Giving in to those tempting rationalizations usually leads to conduct that can be ethically wrong and will backfire every time.
  • And, ALWAYS, when stumped, stop and think your way through to your own answers!

Why Doing Good Is Selfish

Consider the following legend about Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) from J. E. Gallaher’s Best Lincoln Stories (1898.)

The Fable of Abraham Lincoln and the Pigs

The Fable of Abraham Lincoln and the Pigs

Once Lincoln was traveling in a mud-wagon coach along a swampy, rural area. His fellow passenger was his good friend and US Senator Edward Dickinson Baker, who later lost his life in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff at the onset of the American Civil War.

While they were conversing in the mud-wagon coach, Lincoln remarked to Baker that in doing good and evil, all people are motivated by selfishness. Just as Baker challenged Lincoln’s assertion, their coach crossed a rickety bridge over a slough (a large swampy marsh.)

Abruptly, Lincoln and Baker glimpsed a mother pig making a terrible squeal because her piglets were stuck in the swamp, couldn’t get out, and were in danger of drowning.

Abraham Lincoln As their coach started to head away, Lincoln yelled, “Driver, can’t you stop just a moment?” The driver replied, “If the other fellow don’t object.”

With Baker’s approval, Lincoln jumped out of the wagon, ran to the slough, lifted the piglets one by one out of the swamp, and carried them to the dry bank of the swamp.

When Lincoln returned to the coach, Baker remarked, “Now, Abe, where does selfishness come in this little episode?”

Lincoln replied, “Why, bless your soul, Ed, that was the very essence of selfishness. I would have had no peace of mind all day had I gone on and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs. I did it to get peace of mind, don’t you see?”

Psychological Egoism

Being moved by the plight of others—even the suffering of animals (or sentient beings to use Buddhist terminology) as in the aforementioned legend of Lincoln and the piglets—is considered a selfish deed per modern philosophy’s theory of ‘psychological egoism’.

Egoism has its roots in the philosophy of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BCE,) who argued that the human mind is driven by the need to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Egoism contends that deep down all our actions are motivated by what we perceive to be in our own self-interest. For example, if Tom saves Mark from drowning in a river, egoism contends that Tom’s seemingly altruistic behavior is actually motivated by his own self-interest to avoid potential social censure for not helping Mark or to be regarded a hero within his social circle.

Idea for Impact: Be Selfish, Be Generous

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

The great Indian philosopher Aurobindo wrote in Towards the Light, “The secret of joy is self-giving. If any part in you is without joy, it means that it has not given itself, it wants to keep itself for itself.”

The Dalai Lama once advised, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Per the Buddhist concept of interconnectedness, altruistic generosity encourages us to perceive others more positively. When we discover the suffering of others, we realize that those individuals could just as easily have been us. Intuitively, we contemplate “I feel their pain; I can’t let that happen” and are driven to helping others.

When we do something for others and lose ourselves in the service of others, not only do we feel closer to them, but also they feel closer to us. By focusing on giving rather than receiving and on contributing rather than consuming, our generosity can engender an outward orientation toward the world, shifting our focus away from ourselves.

As our whole perception broadens, we realize that the biggest beneficiary of our generosity is often ourselves: at the outset, we are filled with joy with the recognition that someone else is happier because of us.

Idea for Impact: If you want to feel good, help someone else.

Success Conceals Wickedness

Biographies of Steve Jobs (by Walter Isaacson,) Jeff Bezos (by Brad Stone,) and Elon Musk (by Ashlee Vance)

Two common themes in the biographies of Steve Jobs (by Walter Isaacson,) Jeff Bezos (by Brad Stone,) and Elon Musk (by Ashley Vance) are these entrepreneurs’ extreme personalities and the costs of their extraordinary successes.

The world mostly regards Musk, Jobs, and Bezos as passionate, inspiring, visionary, and charismatic leaders who’ve transformed their industries. Yet their biographies paint a vivid picture of how ill-mannered these innovators are (or were, in the case of Jobs). They exercise ruthless control over every aspect of their companies’ products but have little tolerance for underperformers. They are extremely demanding of employees and unnecessarily demeaning to people who help them succeed.

  • Steve Jobs was renowned for his cranky, rude, spiteful, and controlling outlook. Biographer Isaacson recalls, “Nasty was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him.” Jobs famously drove his Mercedes around without a license and frequently parked in handicapped spots. For years, he denied paternity of his first daughter Lisa and forced her and her mother to live on welfare. He often threw tantrums when he didn’t get his way and publicly humiliated employees.
  • In a 2010 commencement address at Princeton, Jeff Bezos recalled his grandfather counseling, “Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.” Still, according to Brad Stone’s biography, Bezos often imparts insulting rebukes and criticisms to employees: “I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?” “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” “Why are you wasting my life?” and “Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I’m CEO of the company to get you to stop challenging me on this?”
  • According to Ashlee Vance’s biography, when an executive assistant asked for a raise, Elon Musk asked her to take a two-week vacation while he contemplated her request. When the assistant returned from vacation, Musk fired her.

“Success covers a multitude of blunders”

The great Irish playwright Oscar Wilde once remarked, “No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.”

The other great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Success covers a multitude of blunders.”

British politician and historian Lord John Dalberg-Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which … the end learns to justify the means.”

Ethics Violations by NBC News Anchor Brian Williams

Ethics Violations by NBC News Anchor Brian Williams In 2015, NBC suspended prominent news anchor Brian Williams after internal investigations revealed no less than 11 instances where he either embellished facts or bent the truth. Members of his team and NBC staffers who knew about these ethics violations chose to overlook because he was powerful. According to The New York Times,

Mr. Williams has been drawing 9.3 million viewers a night, and his position seemed unassailable. Even as the stature of the nightly newscast faded in the face of real-time digital news, Mr. Williams was one of the most trusted names in America … He was powerful. Williams had the ear of NBC boss Steve Burke. He was a ratings powerhouse. And he spent years overseeing TV’s most watched newscast. He was a winner, for himself, those around him and those above him—until it became clear the man who is supposed be among the most trusted in America had issues with telling the truth.

Power Corrupts the Mind

Brilliant men and women engage in morally wrong conduct simply because they can. They can get away with extreme pride, temper, abuse, and other disruptive behaviors because their spectacular success can and does cover many of their sins, even in the eyes of those at the receiving end of their crudeness.

Our high-achieving culture adores the successful, the powerful, and the rich. And part of this adoration is the exemption we grant these celebrities from the ordinary rules of professional civility.

Idea for Impact: The more people possess power and the more successful they get, the more they focus on their own egocentric perspectives and ignore others’ interests.