But What For Newsletter - No. 003

Perseverance, Scurvy, Doing Less, and Big Tech

Latest from But What For?

Perseverance is Great, But Don’t Forget to Prepare: “This is another lesson - it is rare that failure is a permanent state. After failure, you have the option to keep going. You can treat failure as only a stop on your journey. You don't have to let it be the destination. Many people treat getting knocked down as a reason to stay down. Like Haney, we don't have to.”

Others to Read

Scott And Scurvy: “Scurvy is rapidly and completely cured by restoring vitamin C into the diet. Except for the nature of vitamin C, eighteenth century physicians knew this too. But in the second half of the nineteenth century, the cure for scurvy was lost. The story of how this happened is a striking demonstration of the problem of induction, and how progress in one field of study can lead to unintended steps backward in another…

But the villain here is just good old human ignorance, that master of disguise. We tend to think that knowledge, once acquired, is something permanent. Instead, even holding on to it requires constant, careful effort.”

You Can Achieve More With Less: “Francine Jay once said, ‘My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.’ When you train yourself to drop everything else, and focus on getting the vital few done, you become highly productive and accelerate your path to real success.

‘If you want to succeed, you need to focus the biggest majority (75% — 90%) of your time and energy on those tasks that are actually essential. By choosing the essentials, you make the greatest impact with just the minimal amount of resources spent,’ argues Jari Roomer.

Productivity is about priorities and fiercely protecting your time.

Unfortunately, many people are still choosing quantity over quality — they focus too much on the number of tasks they accomplish instead of looking at the high-value tasks they get done in a given day.”

Big Tech at the End of History: “Growth starts out scalable and apolitical, but naturally slows over time. In a mature economy, wages are high, growth is low, the obvious high-return investments have all been picked over, and life is comfortable, boring, and more driven by politics than technological advances. So, too, at mature tech companies. Nobody talks about “resting and vesting” at the Series A level. (At least, not at companies that are going to have a decent Series B.)

But that’s not a story with a happy ending, because it doesn’t really have an ending. “At first, progress happens fast at the cost of hard work, uncertainty, and some material deprivation. Eventually, growth slows but most of the major problems go away, and everyone involved is quite well-off…

But every success saps a little more thymos over time. High margins are the result of vanquished enemies, but if your company culture is built on repeated victories, what can you do when there’s nobody left to beat? Some people rest and vest, letting the hedonic treadmill ensure that $500k is just as insufficient as $100k was. Others quit.”

Stoic’s Corner

“What, do all horses become swift-running, or all dogs quick on the scent? And then, because I am not naturally gifted, shall I therefore abandon all effort to do my best? Heaven forbid.

Epictetus won’t be better than Socrates; but even if I’m not too bad, that will be good enough for me. For I won’t ever be a Milo either, and yet I don’t neglect my body; nor a Croesus, and I don’t neglect my property; nor in general do I cease to make any effort in any regard whatever merely because I despair of achieving perfection”

-Epictetus, Discourses, Book 1, 1.2, translation by Robin Hard

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