The Thinker: Know Thyself And Thy World
In a world that is turning unleashed by the millennium and the internet, we need a new breed of thinkers that can transform and move the world forward
W e stand at another turning point in history. A new world unleashed by the internet, where assumptions and rules of the old world are being challenged. Millennials all over the world are building alternatives of how the world can work. They come from all walks of life, spanning different disciplines and backgrounds. At hackathons and meetups they re-imagine the world. We are experiencing a new revolution, this time not in a single state, but in the multiplicity of networks all over the world. Every now and then a new paradigm comes along that changes everything. Think about the blockchain to create more autonomous organizations. Think of what’s happening in Silicon Valley and other clusters of innovation all over the world.
The history of progress is no straight line. We have had wars, revolutions and crises in a thousand different shapes and forms, yet we always embrace change eventually and emerge stronger. And so the train of history marches forward, with ups and downs, but it moves forward. At every turn, however, there have also been those that think progress is history. They are the guardians of the status quo — those that don’t embrace change or have vested interest. They like things just as they are.
Thankfully, there are some that see things differently — the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries of the world. Throughout history, they have fought the guardians of the status quo. They have inspired and challenged how we think about ourselves. Because of them we experience the world with new eyes.
We need more thinkers and doers to combine imagination with courage and introduce new ways of how the world can work. For example, when we watch how millions of refugees all over the world are trapped in their lives we understand that we need to update our political operating systems. We see the need for change and we talk about changing the world, but the change we seek rarely materializes.
Before we can change the world, we need to change ourselves. We need to where the world has been, and where it is today. We need to understand ourselves deeply. We need to know these things to understand where we fit in as individuals or small groups of people in the bigger picture of history. We need to learn how to become better thinkers and doers — having structured ways of thinking and knowing how to make things happen.
Let me tell you a story from my own life. Imagine the millions of immigrants passing through Ellis Island. Huddled in blankets, crowded together with all their earthly possessions. Arriving in New York after a long journey crossing the Atlantic. Standing at the entrance of the harbor, a mighty female statue that welcomed them into the country. A statue that for them represented possibilities. I want you to see the possibilities in your life. Having new eyes to see yourself and the world differently.
My family did not have the possibilities that millions of immigrants had when they saw the statue of liberty. After fighting in WWII, my grandfather became a prisoner of war. My father grew up poor on a farm by the countryside and walked hours every day just to get to school. At a young age he started working and to support his family couldn’t afford to go to college.
I had my own struggles growing up. I remember how energetic, optimistic and outgoing I was as a kid. As I got older, I turned more inwards, becoming shy and cautious. Being trapped in my own thinking, I became a prisoner of my own mind. Maybe I wasn’t in the right environment, or the fact that I was bullied in school, or didn’t have a good way to deal with those problems. Everyone is sad once in a while, but I would begin to feel an absence of hope in my life. I was afraid of the future and lived without purpose.
One day I looked through old family photos. As I flipped through the photo album, I looked at my old self: energetic and joyful for life. Now I had little energy, little joy for life. I had lost living in the present moment and was trapped in the past or future — a past that was full of regrets and a future where I didn’t see possibilities. I was shocked. How did I let this happen? It felt as if I was looking at two different people.
It was painful, yet, within the pain I saw hope. I realized that I had to make a choice. I could live as I had in the past and remain in the status quo or imagine and create a new life somewhere else. Looking at my younger self, I felt inspired that I could change yet again. In a way my younger self reminded me of the possibilities, of the person that I could become.
I made it a goal that after school I would pursue my dreams in America. Lacking resources or connections, with broken English, and never having been to America made it more than difficult. I couldn’t just go there and work without getting a visa first. College was the only gateway for immigrants to move to America. How would I be able to afford the expensive tuition that American universities demanded?
Despite the odds, I was determined to make it happen. I failed a couple of times before I made it to America. But after making that a positive decision to change my life, I began a new journey in a country that I had never been to with people that I had never met before. My doubts and insecurities did not disappear overnight, but slowly I broke away from the prison that I had created in my mind. I discovered new possibilities and worked on re-creating the person that I knew that I could become.
The more I learned about myself and the world, the more possibilities opened up. It was enriching to learn more about myself and the world, improve my thinking and learn how to make things happen in the world. It is those learnings from my own journey that I am sharing here.
The more I changed, the more I realized that my life is a product of my thinking. If I change my thinking, I change my life. I was very pensive in my early years of moving to America. I became obsessed with thinking, at times probably overthinking with certain subjects. As I got older, I learned that thinking on its own is less constructive than thinking combined with action. The more I improved my learning through my own actions, the more active I became as a thinker.
Ever since I moved to America, I became fascinated with the subject of change. When I worked on Wall Street, I learned how investing is a “rate of change” business. When I co-founded startups and worked in Silicon Valley, I realized that startups catalyze change. I then began taking up writing as a way of learning about everything I was doing and thinking about, and writing at times inspires change. During my time as a graduate student at Harvard University, I studied the elements of change — how change has worked in markets and society throughout history. Indeed the adventure of ideas and the philosophy of change has propelled my life in many ways.
The Thinker is a practical playbook that aims at making you a better, more active thinker. The book uncovers the elements of change and every element features a beautiful illustration, a witty quote, a historical anecdote, a personal story, and a short lesson.
Since the topic of change and thinking is so vast, I have split the book into two volumes. The first volume focuses on individual change — how you can liberate and change yourself to live a more empowered life. The second volume evolves around societal change — how society and markets have changed throughout history and how you can be a catalyst of change. This post is a preview for the first part of the first volume.
The first book features over one hundred elements that can liberate yourself. I have written the as reminders to myself whenever I needed to move my thinking forward. It has three parts — learning, thinking and action. Every part features elements that aims at making you a better thinker. What is a better thinker? One that understands herself and the world, thinks in a structured way and applies her thinking into action to move herself and others forward.
The learning part is about learning about yourself and the world. The thinking part is about the philosophy of thinking. It features elements that will structure and support your thinking. The action part is about how to make things happen. There are three kinds of people, those make things happen, watch this happen, or say what the hell happened. You’ll learn how to be the former. It features elements that connect thinking with action, how you can fight your own demons and the guardians of the status quo, how you can become more actionable and transform ideas into reality.
As Bruce Lee liked to say, I am not teaching you anything, merely helping you to explore yourself. This is a preview of my book, and the version you’re reading right now is a beta version of the preview — please excuse any mistakes, bugs or typos. I hope to improve the book with your feedback and comments.
“Learning never exhausts the mind.”
— Leonardo da Vinci, Italian polymath and Renaissance man
The first part focuses on learning. The purpose of this part is to learn more about yourself and the world. The goal of this part is to discover your purpose, which lies at the intersection of self and world. The more you understand yourself and the world — what you are good at, what you enjoy doing, what you can get paid for and what the world needs — the closer you get to discovering your purpose.
Once you connect your work to the world in a way that carries meaning to you, you will have more energy to carry out your mission. You can then liberate yourself and forge your own path.
Element #1 Love Awareness
Collect clues that tell you where you need to go
“Those who are unaware they are walking in darkness will never seek the light.” — Bruce Lee, legendary martial arts fighter
“It is in vain, sir,… there is no peace,” he shouted standing upright, one hand in an elevated position. “The war is actually begun!” Patrick Henry, American attorney and orator for the American Revolution, was enraged. “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” Henry was aware what other colonists had slowly recognized too. That infringement on liberty was intolerable, and that a different future was necessary.
Over the past decade colonists attempted to repair the relationship with their mother country. At every turn, they lost an ounce of liberty as the British Crown extracted more from its colony. The Stamp Act of 1765 represented a direct tax that required colonists to buy special paper from British stamp agents. Sadly, the tyranny continued. The Stamp Act gave way for Declaratory Acts, which translated into full legislative power for the British over the colonies. Next, the Townshend Acts of 1767 raised taxes on certain imported goods in order to pay the salaries of colonial officials.
Despite those interferences, Henry was optimistic about the future. He watched how colonists had united over the crisis. When the British granted a monopoly to the East India Company over American tea trade, infuriated Patriots in Massachusetts dumped tea worth thousands of pounds into the Boston Harbor. To punish colonists for their defiance, the British Crown passed a series of punitive laws known as the Intolerable Acts of 1774.
For a long time the collective level of pain amongst colonists wasn’t high enough to challenge the status quo. The process of awareness toward what was happening was gradual. The colonies were doing well economically. Many believed in evolution, not revolution. Only when liberty began to erode, did colonists come together collectively to challenge the status quo.
“We must fight,” Henry encouraged his fellow men one year after the Boston incident, “I repeat, sir, we must fight!” In a call to protect liberty, he exclaimed, “I know not what course others may take, “but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”
Growing up in a small village by the forest, I have fond memories of my childhood. We didn’t have much, but a loving family made up for much. I was energetic, myself and always in flow. As I got older I became more of an outsider, shy and contemplative. When I would go outside in the past, I would stay at home, losing myself in the internet and computer games. Only a few years before I finished school did I realize how different I had become. When my grandmother visited one day, she barely recognized me. I thought a lot about why I had changed so much. Maybe because I was in a bad environment. Maybe because I was bullied. It was probaly a variety of reasons. I was shocked that I had only noticed the changes so slowly. After high school, I moved to America and began my journey of starting a new life, re-creating my identity from the ground up.
The first step in changing yourself is awareness. Without realizing that the status quo needs to be challenged, nothing will happen. A frog that is put into boiling water will jump out right away, but if you put the same frog into cold water that is slowly heated the frog will remain oblivious to the danger and die. Don’t be the frog and become aware about changes when it’s too late.
Element #2 Embrace Change
Life is a rate of change business
“Change is the only constant.” — Heraclitus, Greek pioneering philosopher
A s recently as 1800, China was on equal footing with the Western world. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger estimates that for 18 of the last 20 centuries, China’s GDP was the largest in the world. And then it all changed. From 1800 onwards China’s economy began to stagnate and even decline. As historian Niall Ferguson astutely observed, “by 1820 U.S. per capita GDP was twice that of China; by 1870 it was nearly five times greater; by 1913 the ratio was nearly 10 to one.” If there is one common theme in the history of the world, it is change. Things never stay the same. Empires rise and fall. Generations come and go. Our own lives are fragile, and stand as a testament to the inherent property of the universe — change. Just as China’s fortune had declined, it was able to revert its trajectory when Chinese revolutionary and statesman Deng Xiaoping unleashed economic reforms in the 1970s. From that point onwards, China’s return to global prominence has been as spectacular as surprising, but only if you didn’t believe that things are staying the same.
A s I approached finishing high school my life was still the same. I hadn’t changed as much I wanted, but I had embraced change. I was aware that I needed to change my life, but I wasn’t quite sure how. Looking through old family photos again, I was reminded of the possibilities. If I had changed in the past, I could change again. I began embracing change. Slowly my spirit returned and although my outside situation didn’t change immediately, I began working toward a new future. My dream of going to America slowly took shape, and with every step I became more optimistic toward the future. When I began to see results, even when they came in slowly, I learned first-hand how change was possible. After trials and erros, I I set out on a journey that would fundamentally re-shape my entire life. To get started, I got into a small college in New York on an almost full scholarship, far away from home. I began working on Wall Street part-time, for free, as I wasn’t allowed to make money, but it helped me to learn a lot. Most importantly, it reinforced my belief that things are always changing, and how important it is to be in control of your own destiny by believing in change.
Understanding that life always changes is an obvious but important aspect of living a more empowered and emboldened life. It is an encouraging thought that you have the power to change any situation. It keeps you humble when things are going well and hopeful when things are not going your way.
Element #3 Trust Thyself
Follow your intuition
“The heart has its reasons that reason cannot know.” — Blaise Pascal, French mathematician, physicist and founder of the modern theory of probabilities
Christopher olumbus belonged to an artisan family, but his heart belonged to that of an adventurer. When he grew up, he craved to venture out into the sea. It was a feeling he would never lose. He learned the ropes of a sailor and educated himself on everything that was important. After the Ottoman Empire cut off the land routes to India, European traders were looking for new ways to access lucrative spices such as pepper.
Columbus recognized the opportunity and trusted his intuition as a sailor and explorer. He lacked perfect knowledge about the world, but what he lacked in knowledge he made up for with courage. He pleaded with neighboring countries to finance his venture. They all rejected him, except Spain’s Queen Isabella. After appealing to Queen Isabella’s religious spirit, she agreed to partially finance his venture. After securing additional funding by investors from Seville and Valencia, Columbus began building three ships — the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. He recruited able men and set sail in August of 1492, in search for a westward route to India.
It was a long journey and he never found what he was looking for. But he discovered something equally good — another whole continent. While he wasn’t the first man to set foot on America, his discovery created a bridge between the Americas and Europe. Despite rejections and uncertainty, and an imperfect knowledge, had trusted his intuition that there was more to the world than society realized.
A s I finished high school in Germany, I dreamed of moving to the United States. I didn’t know how I would make it happen, but I felt that I needed to leave my country — to learn more about myself and the world. Short of resources and money, I followed my intuition and mustered the courage to experiment. While others told me that someone of my background and means couldn’t just go live abroad and study in the United States. They told me this was for rich kids. As a son of immigrants, however, I wasn’t deterred for long. I would have just gone without going to school, but sadly Going to college was never my goal, but as an immigrant you can’t get a work visa without a college degree. I had two failed attempts after school, but by the third time, I found a way to make it happen. It would have been impossible if I did not trust myself.
Always follow your intuition. It will never lead you astray. There are thousands of voices ready to tell you what you should do. Perfect knowledge is an illusion. As Steve Jobs said, to connect the dots you have to trust in something. Trust yourself and move forward boldly.
Element #4 Expand Your Horizon
Travel and see the world extensively
“What should they know of England who only England know? — Rudyard Kipling, journalist, poet and author of The Jungle Book
When Venetian born merchant Marco Polo joined his family on their journey to China in 1271, it wasn’t for another 23 years before they returned. It was a long trip that impressed upon young Marco in a way that he would never forget. During his journey, he served as a personal aide to the mighty Kublai Khan, grandson of Mongol leader Genghis Khan. On his various missions, he noticed how differently the world worked there and started recording his impressions of the culture and customs. Through his experiences he came to understand to world in a new way.
Years later, when he had already returned to Europe, Marco Polo was thrown into prison. How unfortunate, you might think. It was there that he met Rustichello da Pisa, a writer of Romantic fiction. After telling him about his adventures in Asia, the writer recorded his stories as book upon their released from prison. Il Milione — or commonly called The Travels of Marco Polo in English inspired future generations of explorers and adventures. Marco expanded his own world and that of millions of other people by showing them that the world is more than the world that one is born into. Two centuries after his death, when Christopher Columbus searched for new frontiers, he carried a copy of Marco Polo’s book.
Ever since I was a kid I was intrigued about flying. There was something magical to it. I was fascinated after a plane ride of a few hours, you could enter a different world. One of my first flights was during a school exchange visit, where I stayed with a Russian family in Moscow. Life there felt so entirely different than what I was used to in Germany. For two weeks, I was able to experience a different culture from the ground up.
In my travels, whenever I discover a new part of the world, I try to explore as a local. When I was older I traveled with friends to Morocco, passing through ancient cities and spending a night in the Sahara desert, watching the stars and singing over the fireplace. After every trip, there is always something new that I learn about the world. Skipping tourist attractions and adopting the local lifestyle not only saves money, but also brings a more authentic experience. Experiencing how ordinary people live gives you a different view into their world. Expanding your comfort zone helps you to understand yourself and the world in important ways. When you live abroad and learn another language, it helps you think in different ways. Additionally, exploring cultural differences will make you appreciate others far more.
If you want to understand yourself, let the world be a part of your perspective. There will be times when you wander around and you don’t know where you are going. You will learn things that you never learned before and cherish the diversity that the world offers. Don’t travel like a tourist, travel like a local. It will give you a new understanding of everything. It will redefine who you are and make you realize what matters. And you’ll understand that people share more similarities than differences.
Element #5 Know Thyself
Build your own operating system to navigate through the world
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” — Socrates, Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Western philosophy
A s emperor of the Roman Empire from the year 169 to 180, Marcus Aurelius sat down to write. Not just once but every other day. Not for anyone else, but for himself. In a series of notes inspired by Stoic philosophy, he reflected through his own challenges. He developed his own operating system that helped him navigate through his own chaotic world. Although he never intended the notes to be published, today the collection of notes is known as Meditations. Whether you agree with his philosophy or not, here was one of the most powerful men, and he examined things deeply to understand himself and the world around him better.
Maybe it was when I when first got interested in investing or when I moved to the United States. Or when I got involved in tech startups working. The exact point in time is not important. What matters is my realization that my body and mind can be programmed like an operating system. I could build my own kind of philosophy that I could use to guide myself. I wouldn’t have to subscribe to any particular religion or way of thinking. I could take the best parts from every philosophy and integrate what works and discard the rest. Understanding that you are essentially an operating system also helped me to understand that the world is malleable, that you can change and influence it. Since then philosophy has been a powerful compass to help me navigate my life.
Stoic philosopher Epicurus described philosophy as medicine for the soul. Because of the media and the internet, people are inclined to follow the same thoughts. Philosophy will help you to find your own path. As author Ryan Holiday writes, a philosopher is someone that solves the problems of life practically.
Element #6 Study All Movements
Leverage your knowledge with multiple mental models
“If you skillfully follow the multidisciplinary path, you will never wish to come back. It would be like cutting off your hands.” — Charlie Munger, lawyer, philanthropist and vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway
“What’s your style?” he was asked. He replied, “My style?… You can call it the art of fighting without fighting.” Today Bruce Lee is known as a legendary fighter and founder of the martial art Jeet Kune Do, but he didn’t start out as a master. On his way to mastery, he studied all the different ways of fighting, applied what worked for him and discarded what didn’t. Out of this experimentation grew his own unique style of fighting. As he liked to say, adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.
Early on when I learned investing, I studied different models of understanding the world since investing is a rate of change business. If I wanted to recognize what was going to change in the world, I had to study more than one discipline. Economics is an established way of understanding the world that many investors have studied. But economics has its own blindspot. I noticed how few investors studied history or psychology. I began my journey of studying outside the established field. At times it was difficult trying to understand the world through different lenses, but it has been a worthwhile pursuit to recognize opportunities that others have missed.
It is unlikely that you will find all the wisdom in one discipline anyway. Consider the multidisciplinary approach of understanding the world. Having multiple mental models allows you to see the world with new eyes and recognize changes that are happening in the world that you would otherwise miss.
Element #7 Time Travel
Have a macroscopic view of the world
“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” — Isaac Newton, English physicist, mathematician and key figure in the scientific revolution
A t the turn of the 19th century, the electric car was so popular that more than one third of all vehicles were powered by electricity. William Morrison had built the first electric car in the United States in 1891. By 1897, New York taxis got electrified by the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia. As early as 1896, the Hartford Electric Light Company proposed a recharging infrastructure, seeking to remedy the range issues of electric cars. The consumer would buy the vehicle without a battery through GVC, a subsidiary of General Electric and Hartford that provided the electricity. The New York Times acknowledged the “great advances” that the electric vehicle had made and hailed its “quiet operation” as a great advantage. And then it all stopped.
By the 1920s, America had developed a better system of infrastructure, whereby vehicles needed to go longer distances. The discovery of large petroleum reserves had reduced the price of gasoline. This made the gasoline car more attractive to consumers. In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the Model T for $850. The popular electric equivalent by Anderson Electric cost more than twice as much. By 1915, Ford had cut the price of his car almost by half, making the gasoline car more affordable to ordinary people. For the next one hundred years, the gasoline car had won the battle against the electric car.
I learned about the importance of history when studying under the prolific historian Niall Ferguson. In his class on “Western Ascendancy”, teaching the mainsprings of Western power, he captivated students, making complex matters about the global economy accessible. For one hour every week, everyone would listen in eagerly, as Prof. Ferguson illustrated his points with historical anecdotes and engage students with questions. It got us thinking about the big picture. It unleashed an excitement for history that I have kept never lost since then.
Understanding how the world has worked from a big picture is indispensable. Of the over 100 billion people that have ever been born in the history of the world, there is a wealth of knowledge waiting to be tapped into. Learning history will teach you that the world is constantly changing and you will recognize that there are multiple pieces to the puzzle.
Element #8 Stay Humble
Humility is the antidote in a world of uncertainty
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” — C.S. Lewis, British novelist, essayist and poet
Throughout his life George Washington struggled with his ego. As an ambituous young man vanity was a constant temptation. He liked wearing his uniform and impressing the ladies. But over time, he learned about the importance of staying humble. He realized that serving others and not just promoting himself would bestow more honors on him. On a cold December day in 1783, a victorious Washington surrendered his military commision to Congress. “Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action,” he announced, “and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.” Instead of seizing power, as was common in those days, he gave it away. He understood that the principles upon which the young country that he helped to found stood above his own sense of prestige. His humiloty and surrender signaled to the world that the United States was founded on different principles.
I n 2013, I was invited as a young scholar to The Institute of New Economic Thinking’s inaugural conference in Hong Kong to explore new avenues of economic thinking. The Institute was seeded by billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros, as a result of the 2008 global financial crisis to provoke solutions for the 21st century. While I talked to a few economists, the most compelling conversation I had occurred with the President of the Institute, Rob Johnson. During my conversation with Rob Johnson, he told me how growing up in a family of sailors he had learned to be humble. As a sailor when you go off shore, there is no choice but to stay humble. Whether it’s a thunderstorm or big seas, you know that God can take your life, he told me. Humility at sea is a survival tactic.
The world is full of uncertainties and those that are mindful of them thrive in it while it washes away those who laugh at them. The more you know, the more you know that there is a vast pool of knowledge that you don’t know. You’ll never have perfect knowledge for whatever you try to do. Stay humble as a way to counter a world that is filled with uncertainties.
Element #9 Read To Lead
Reading is the gateway to knowledge and learning
“A book is like a garden, carried in the pocket.” — Chinese Proverb
From an early age J.K. Rowling, famed author of the Harry Potter Series, knew she wanted to be a writer. As an aspiring author, she understood that good writing is accompanied with vorocious reading. She lived for books and in her own words “was your basic common-or-garden bookworm, complete with freckles and National Health spectacles.” Today, despite her success she continues to read whenever she can. As she told Oprah, “I read when I’m drying my hair; I read in the bath. I read when I’m sitting in the bathroom. Pretty much anywhere I can do the job one-handed, I read.” As she likes to say, if you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book. J.K. Rowling’s reading habit helped her to imagine and create Harry Potter’s world. Her reading directly influenced her writing, which not only made her the first billionaire author, but inspired millions of young kids to read books.
Any successful person reads daily. Did you know that Winston Churchill won his Nobel Prize in Literature? During his time at the military college, Napoleon, teased by his students turned his loneliness into a reading habit. His favorite book was Plutarch’s The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, which allowed him to be inspired by heroes such as Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, whom he emulated later in his life as conqueror. When immigrant billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk was asked how he learned to build rockets, he answered, “I read books.”
When I first got to the London School of Economics as an undergrad, I was overwhelmed with the amount and difficulty of reading that was assigned. Reading entire books, or multiple chapters from different books every week for a single class was the new normal. It felt impossible at first. Over time, however, I learned how to tackle it by reading for hours, taking notes, forming connections and enjoying the exercise. The more I read, the easier it was to handle and appreciate it. By tackling difficult readings, I challenged my thinking and expanded my understanding of how the world worked.
If you want to understand yourself and the world, you have to learn to love reading. It’s actually easy. Just start reading for pleasure, whatever you enjoy. Understand that reading is a gateway to learning. It quinches your curiosity, not only helping you to acquire knowledge but also teaching you how to apply it. Reading is a neccessary ingredient for any form of expression. Don’t just read what’s easy. If you truly want to understand the world, you have to tackle the difficult readings, too. Treasure books. They contain many answers that you seek.
Element #10 Find Your Yoda
Heroes inspire you to discover what you can truly become
“The best thing I did was to choose the right heroes. It all comes from Graham.” — Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the most successful investors of the 20th century
Sometime in 1949, Warren Buffett picked up a copy of Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor. The book — today recognized as a stock market bible — was a guide to value investing, in which Graham advocated to invest in undervalued stocks and develop long-term strategies. It changed Warren’s life. “Benjamin Graham had been my idol ever since I read his book The Intelligent Investor,” Buffett would later recount. “I had wanted to go to Columbia Business School because he was a professor there, and after I got out of Columbia, returned to Omaha, and started selling securities, I didn’t forget about him.” Not only did Warren Buffett study under Benjamin Graham, but later with a lot of persistence got offered a job to work as an analyst at his firm. Grahm inspired him to fulfill his potential, and played a pivotal role in shaping the Warren Buffett that we all recognize today.
When it was time to write my undergraduate thesis, I dedicated it to George Soros’s theory of reflexivity. Soros had been one of my heroes, who also as an immigrant had moved to the United States and build a fortune in the markets. He was also someone who was philosophical and pensive, and had applied his thinking successfully in the markets. His theory of reflexivity was a perfect laboratory to understand how the markets worked. Only six months after submitting my thesis, a colleague helped me to forward my thesis to Soros. That same year, when I was invited to Hong Kong I also met him personally, albeit briefly. Years later when I had a chance to meet Elon Musk at a private conference and talk for a few minutes, it carried an inspirational seed that I haven’t lost to this day. There is something about meeting one of your heroes in person, it makes it feel more real.
Find the heroes that inspire you. Dead or alive it doesn’t matter. Fictional or real, whatever works. Whether you can build a personal relationship with them or not. There is always someone that you can learn from, someone that can inspire you. Whenever I interview people, I like to ask them whom in history they would choose to have dinner with in history. I’d like to have dinner with Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin or Albert Einstein. If you could have dinner with anyone, whom would you choose?
Element #11 Understand Nature
Have a scientific way of looking at the world
“Science is not a major or career. It is a commitment to a systematic way of thinking, an allegiance to a way of building knowledge and explaining the universe through testing and factual observation.” — Atul Gawande, surgeon, and public health researcher
I t was another normal day when young Isaac Newton returned home, but it would quickly become special. While sitting in his garden, and seeing an apple fall, it led him to understand the workings of gravity. After taking a bath, Archimedes allegedely discovered the principles of buoyancy. Upon his discovery, he ran outside naked through the streets of Syracus, crying “Eureka!” Whether these stories are true or just embellished is less important. They display the effect that a scientific mind can have when it observes nature. It can lead to a new way of understanding the world.
I n one of my first interviews for Pensive, a podcast that engages thinkers and doers philosophically, I talked with Doug Carmichael, a former Harvard fellow, and learned about the importance of understanding science and nature. “Why is the sky blue? Most people your age don’t know the answer,” he told me. “I will sometimes talk to a group of technical people, and tell them ‘You have never designed anything as complicated as a blade of grass.’ A blade of grass can reproduce. It can handle different seasons. It can be stepped on. Try it.’”
Nature is one of the greatest teachers. Pay attention to what nature is doing and develop a scientific mind. There are so many secrets in nature that we have yet to discover and so many things that you can learn about yourself and the world by studying nature.
Element #12 Become An Artist
See the world through the eyes of an artist
“When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressive creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and opens ways for better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it and shows there are still more pages possible.” — Robert Henri, American painter, teacher and author of The Art Spirit
After the impressionist master and painter Claude Monet had made himself a home in Giverny, 45 miles outside of Paris, he moved away from painting what others had created towards painting the subjects that he had built himself. In his garden that he spent years on landscaping he created the world that he wanted to paint. He was obsessed with the composition and beauty of his garden and even brought one arm of the town’s river through his garden. Every day he would retreat to his garden, get inspired and paint his impressions. Long after his death, the masterpieces from his garden still represent the sweetness of the French countryside. Here was a painter who deeply appreciated art and created his own little world, which represented how he understood the world and maybe how he wanted the world to be in some parts.
A s a small kid growing up in the countryside in a small town in Germany, I told my mom that one day I would go to Hollywood. No matter what I did growing up I was always an artist at heart. When I moved to the United States, I wasn’t allowed to work or pursue anything outside my studies of economics and philosophy, but I would always think like an artist. One summer, I saved up money and enrolled in acting classes the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York. Rehearsing and playing scences and hanging out with actors gave me a different way of understanding the world. And acting is a useful skill for life. While I appreciate it older art more, I also like to go to contemporary museums and understand how artists today are thinking about the world.
Art is a great way to connect with the world and express yourself. Many hidden truths about the world can be found in art. No matter what you do, never lose the artist in you.
Element #13 Understand The Causes Of Things
Look at the big picture to understand the world
“Fortunate who was able to know the causes of things.” Virgil, ancient Roman poet and author of the epic Aeneid
When Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, invested his first $300 into Northeast Airline and tripling his investment, he was quickly hooked with the stock market. Over the course of his career, he developed an understanding of the economy and its basic driving forces that turned him into one of the most successful investors of his time. When Ray Dalio talks about the economy, he likens it to a simple machine that works in a simple mechanical way. Its made up of parts and transactions that are repeated and driven by human nature. If you understand productivity growth, the short-term and long-term debt cycle, you can track the economic movements and figure out what is happening. It’s not as easy as that, but a proper understanding about the economy is far from complicated as most economists would make you believe.
After I first learned about investing, I realized that you needed to figure out where the market was going in a big way. And where the market is going in a big way requires an understanding of the economy. However, I was overwhelmed by the plethora of information and data and the myriad of different opinions about where the world is headed. I began reading books by Hungarian-born investor Andre Kostolany, who was a popular figure in Germany, and learned how he learned about the world. He talked to ordinary and extraordinary people and he asked them questions that would help him understand the state of the world. I have been adopting his approach ever since and it has made it more fun and engaging to learn about the world.
Understand the world from a bird’s eye perspective. You don’t have to be an economist to understand what’s going on. Basic concepts such as supply and demand often trump complicated models. An even better way is find the right people and ask them good questions. It’s more fun, too.
Element #14 Leverage Technology
See technology as your ally, not your enemy
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
— Arthur C. Clarke, British science fiction writer, futurist and inventor
A s co-founder of Netscape, the first widely used web browser, and a16z, a successful venture capital firm, Marc Andreessen has an acute understanding of the power of the internet and technology. As he likes to say, the spread of computers and the internet will make you either tell a computer what to do, or being told by computers what to do. In a series of tweets, he once explained the leveraging power that technology always had. In his view technology gives people superpowers that they didn’t have before. For example, fire was a superpower to heat and cook things. Electric lighting kept your productivity up even when the sun was down. Steam power and mechanical engines allow you to leverage your physical efforts. Planes, trains, and automobiles take you anywhere faster and where you couldn’t go before. The telegraph and telephone allows you to communicate faster and cheaper. The examples are endless.
When I look back at how I was able to come to America when I had never been there before, with little money and no right to work during most of my time here, I sometimes wonder how I made it possible. The truth is without technology, especially the internet it would have been impossible to do. The internet has enabled opportunities and made them affordable to execute. For example, even finding the college while researching schools without the internet or making cheap phone call to the United States would have made the venture less feasbible in light of all the constraints. Technology has been a great amplifier throughout my life.
We live in technological times. Not only is an understanding of technology essential to succeed in the future, it is also a vital tool that can amplify your life. Technology makes everything possible. Don’t fear it, use it. Don’t hate it, understand it.
Element #15 Follow Your Curiosity
Dive deep into your favorite rabbit hole
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” — Albert Einstein
“It wasn’t all romantic,” Steve Jobs told students, “I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned Coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple.” By dropping out of college, Jobs was able to follow his curiosity. One day, he stumbled upon a class on calligraphy, and freed from the standard curriculum, he decided to take it. “It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating,” he later explained. The class wouldn’t have any practical application at first, but years later when Jobs and his team designed the first Macintosh computer, he designed the first computer with beautiful typography.
When I first got h0oked to the stock market, I learned everything I could. I scrapped the entire local library for books related to investing. Then I continued my search on the internet — the infinite sea of information, and to my delight a lot of information was free. I followed my curiosity which it seems the internet is made for and there was no end in sight. The more I learned, the more questions I had. Whenever I want to learn something new, I search the internet. I click on an article, and then from that article you find 3 new links. By following your inspiration, you stumble upon a thousand fountains of inspiration.
Pursue whatever draws your curiosity. The internet has one billion rabbit holes and you will find whatever interests you. Go beyond the websites that everyone is familiar with, and make it an adventure when you explore new things on the internet. You’ll never know where it may lead.
Element #16 Dare To Know
Ask questions that expand your learning
“The really important thing is to ask yourself what questions to ask.” — Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, Tesla and PayPal
When Elon Musk is asked how he build his space exploration SpaceX, he often answers that he read a lot of books and talked to a lot of people. “Once he has a goal, his next step is to learn as much about the topic at hand as possible from as many sources as possible,” Jim Cantrell who worked with him on the founding team explains, “He literally sucks the knowledge and experience out of people that he is around.” When he was thinking about entering the space industry, he was able to talk to the world’s leading experts in the industry. What NASA wasn’t able to do with $27 billion, he was able to do with $1 billion. He entered the industry as an outsider and now SpaceX is a leader in its field.
When my college offered me a stipend to study abroad for a year, I consulted with my friends who were working at the United Nations on what options would maximize my learning. My initial plan was to study one semester in London, and another one in Hong Kong. After talking to a lot of people, however, and getting into a great school in London, I decided study for a whole year in London.
Question everything. Learning can be as as fund and simple as consulting the right sources and asking thoughtful questions. A lot of knowledge remains in private networks and be unlocked by asking questions. With the internet the right answer might be just a click away. American chess player Joshua Waitzkin recommends to write down the most important question you need to work on every time before you go to sleep, and answer it whenever you wake up.
Element #17 Be A Polyglot
A new language allows you to access the world in new ways
“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein, Austrian-British philosopher
“I was obsessed with maps when I was a kid and cities specifically so I taught myself to program,” Jack Dorsey explained. “I had a very clear goal of what I wanted to do, which is to see a map of the city on my screen and play with it, put things around the map, move things around the map, see what was happening in the world, how it worked, how it lived, how it breathed.” Growing up in St. Louis, Jack Dorsey was always fascinated with cities. He collected maps and was fascinated with cities such as New York. After teaching himself how to program, he built a digital map that visualized vehicles as dots. He continued his experiments based his on new learnings=, which eventually laid the foundation for social network platforming Twitter.
“I got interested in learning English,” Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba revealed, “I rode my bike for 40 minutes every morning, rain or snow, for eight years to a hotel near the city of Hangzhou’s West Lake district, about 100 miles southwest of Shanghai.” China opened up and he understood the opportunities that would arise if he would English as a foreign language. For eight years he provided free tours and practiced his English. “I started to become more globalized than most Chinese,” he later said. “What I learned from my teachers and books was different from what the foreign visitors told us.”
For a long time I had a difficult time learning computer programming. I would start only to give up a couple of weeks or months later. Over time I upset however that whenever I had a new idea I wasn’t able to prototype it. It still felt intimidating, and impossible to do — for a long time, even after the commitment. I took online classes at Udacity and graduate school — the popular CS50, attended hackathons, but it still didn’t make sense. With every project I learned more. Once I understood the basics, and could prototype, the initial frustration wore off and I learned even more. Today I can prototype and programming has become an outlet to express my creativity.
Learning another language means accessing another world. Whether a foreign or computer language, you will unlock new opportunities. The better you get at mastering the new language, the more doors open. The more you learn, the more things get illuminated and you build more momentum. With every new door there are new possibilities to create a new future for yourself. You’ll recognize opportunities where others do not. You’ll be able to meet new people and have different kinds of conversations.
Element #18 Unite The World
Build bridges, don’t burn them
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes.” — Yoda, legendary Jedi Master
For most of its history, Europe has been torn in warfare. War not peace has been its natural condition. Since WWII, however, Europe has been one of the most prosperous joint ventures. Steering through two existential crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the de factor leader of the continent, did not have an easy job navigating through the uncertainty. When she opened the doors to refugees, some thought it endangered the European project. “In many regions war and terror prevail. States disintegrate. For many years we have read about this,” she argued, “But we had not yet sufficiently understood that what happens in Aleppo and Mosul can affect Essen or Stuttgart. We have to face that now.” Merkel understands that we live in an interconnected world and is dedicating toward uniting Europe.
Until I was twenty years old, I lived in one small village by the forest in Germany. Since I left, I have lived in Cambridge, New York, London, San Francisco and Hong Kong, and traveled in a dozen of countries all over the world. This is not to impress you, but to impress upon you that what matters is that we should unite and not fight. Once I learned to see the world as my playground and that everything is connected, it helped me to learn from various different points of views. I became more comfortable adopting viewpoint from other cultures, which has only improved my learning.
Everything is connected. Don’t live in isolation and forget about others. All knowledge used to be philosophy, before it was divided into many different disciplines. Find the synergies that arise from combining different ways of learning.
Element #19 Beware Biases
Be careful of what corrupts your learning
“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” — George Bernard Shaw, Oscar-winning playwright and co-founder of the London School of Economics
When the United States was founded, it was a spectacular foundation for a new political operating system in many ways. However the founders also had their own biases. Most men in power were white men, many of them slaveholders. Slavery was still in vogue and women lacked many rights that they have today. As the country grew older, immigrants would often be blamed for the country’s problems. Those problems of excluded entire groups of people would lead to many problems down the road.
A s I worked on this preview for my book, I had my own bias. My girlfriend reminded me that I need to include more women. Since every element is a reminder to myself, the playbook also carries my own bias of how I learned to understand myself and the world. As I get more feedback from readers around the world, I will probably look back and be surprised at how I was able to miss some things.
You need to understand that your biases, which taints your reality. Just like an Instagram filter, every bias makes you perceive the world in a different way. Since you come from a different background and have experienced the world in different ways, be mindful of your own biases. Understand that there are many different ways of seeing the same thing.
Element #20 Seek Challenges
Consider what you disagree with
“I don’t agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Evelyn Beatrice Hall, biographer of Voltaire
When Nicolaus Copernicus published “De revolutionibus” in March 1543, after more than a decade of revisions, it challenged the widely held belief that the Earth stood at the center of the universe. Initially it met with no resistance from the Catholic Church. The Church neglected it but didn’t disagree with it. In 1616, however, after a wave of Protestant reforms the church banned his book and it was not lifted for more than 200 years until 1835. The Catholic Church was reluctant to challenge its own worldview with contrasting evidence. It limited its learning by only believing what it deemed to be the truth in it own eyes.
A s an undergraduate student at the London School of Economic, I got involved with the debating club. It was challenging at first, because You needed to be quick on your feet and sometimes consider points of view that you necessarily did not agree with. I would struggle with it at the beginning, because I was believed that I couldn’t defend what I didn’t believe in. But from those exercises I learned that you need to understand both sides of the argument before you can say that you understand your own side. The debates also helped me to be more comfortable with seeking out things I would normally shy away from.
Consider a different point of view. Don’t just read stuff about the world that confirms your bias. Be open minded and read outside what you would normally read. Charlie Munger likes to say that you’re not entitled to your view, unless you also understand the opposite perspective.
Element #21 Understand Human Nature
Learn how people tick
“Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing.” — John Stuart Mill, English political philosopher
Today Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith is best known for The Wealth of Nations — the epitome that has served as the foundation for economists for centuries. What few know is that Smith also published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which provided the ethical and philosophical underpinnings for his later work. Smith knew that in order to understand the world you have to understand human nature. “How selfish soever man may be supposed,” he wrote, “there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.” Other philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes painted a darker view of human nature, who famously espoused that “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” However those philosophers understood human nature informed how they understood the world.
When I interviewed former secret agent and serial entrepreneur David Roberts, I learned another way of understanding human nature. “I believe everybody is born good. I never found an evil baby ever,” he told me, “I think there is a slippery slope that happens in adulthood where people make an exception.” As those people make different choices, they turn out to be people that we wouldn’t recognize as good human natured.
When I studied economics and read about how economists understood the world, I noticed that they would often discount humans in their mathematical models. In their attempt to simplify they would go on to limit how they understand the world.
If you want to understand the world, you need to understand human nature. You need to understand how humans tick. But be careful about the assumption that you make, as they will define how you understand the world.
Element #22 Shape The Future
The best way to predict the future is to create it
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” — Alan Kay, computing pioneer
When Queen Elizabeth II visited the London School of Economics in 2009, she asked why nobody had noticed that the financial crisis was on its way. After the British Academy convened a forum to find an answer, they explained, in simple terms, that it was the failure of the collective imagination around the world to understand the risk of the system as a whole. The best mathematical minds failed to calculate the financial risk. In other words, everyone was minding their own businesses and there were no incentives to adjust the interconnected imbalances. The experts acknowledged that some were able to predict the crisis but none its timing and ferocity.
In a speech in 1974 Margaret Thatcher predicted, that “it will be years — not in my time — before a woman will become Prime Minister.” Five years later, she became the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom.
When I was living in San Francisco, I would join my friend Camilo at hackathons on the weekends. We would joke to each other that hackathons are where artists and hackers meet. While working on a solution, we would sometimes discuss the future of AI and robotics. These days a lot of people are scared of robots. Images of Terminator come to mind when people think of robots. While there are many possible futures concerning artificial intelligence, we realized that is important to be in control of your own destiny and work on creating a part of the future that you want to see.
As the proverb goes, it is difficult to make predictions, especially when they concern the future. There is one past, but many possible futures. It is better to take what lies within your control and shape the future yourself.
Element #23 See Beyond Yourself
Listen and emphasize with others
“Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.” — Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States
After a long day’s work on December 1, 1955, Rosa Park boarded a bus to get home. Mindful of the local laws that dictated that all public transportation be segregated, she took a seat at the front of the bus designated for “colored” people. When the bus got crowded with white customers, the bus driver demand that she should move even further back. That day she refused to give up her seat. She was fed up how nobody emphasized how she felt every time she boarded the bus. If only they could see the world how she is experiencing it, she was thinking. By refusing to give up the seat, she sparked a national movement and became a symbol for the civil rights movement.
Throughout my life I had to learn how to adapt and live in new environments. The more I learned about the world, the more I understood that everyone has something interesting to say. There over 7 billion people living in this world, and they all have a voice. To emphasize and imagine what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes is a great way of learning about the world.
Emphasizing with others is important. It opens up a whole new way of understanding the world. When you can see how others see the world, you will expand your horizon. When you get caught up in your ego, the opposite happens — isolation.
Element #24 Check Your Blind Spots
Be mindful of the unknown unknowns
“Ha, I was a blaze leaping up! I was a tiger bursting into sunlight. I was greedy, I was mad for the unknown. I, new-risen, resurrected, starved from the tomb starved from a life of devouring always myself now here was I, new-awakened, with my hand stretching out and touching the unknown, the real unknown, the unknown unknown.” — D.H. Lawrence, English novelist, poet, playwright, and painter
I t was a normal day for Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense. During a Pentagon news briefing in February 2002, he was answering questions about the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of mass destruction to terrorist groups. “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know,” he slowly began explaining. “We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.” In his last utterance, what wouldn’t be forgotten and what would be hist most memorable lines: “But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know,” he concluded. The unknown unknowns also known as blind spots are the areas that obstruct our decision-making.
Another way of understanding unknown unknowns are black swans, originally coined by Roman poet Juvenal to refer to the fragility of any system of thought. In the 16th century the term black swan was popularized in London as a statement of possibility. Today, Lebanese-American scholar Nassem Taleb popularized the term to refer to an improbable event that has potentially massive consequences. The idea derives from the Old World presumption that all swans must be white because all historical records indicate that that all swans are white. “No amount of observations of white swans can allow the inference that all swans are white,” English political philosopher John Stuart Mill argued, “but the observation of a single black swan is sufficient to refute that conclusion.” And so it happened. In 1697, however, Dutch explorers led by Willem de Vlamingh discovered black swans in Western Australia.
When I started college in New York and later London, I would focus on studying the social sciences. Studying economics, philosophy, history and politics, for a long time I would forget about science — physics, chemistry, biology and the likes. When I discovered my bias toward social sciences as I finished my undergraduate years, I focused on learning more about the sciences, too. It has helped me to see the world in yet another way.
As a student friends and colleagues would often tell me that I need to listen more. Instead of taking the feedback, I would take it to heart and get defensive. I was more interested in talking, than listening. Sometimes I would get so excited with something that I wouldn’t let the other person finish talking. I was so blind to it that even when people told me about it I would disregard it. Since I noticed the blindspot, I have created a habit of actively listening wherever I go.
Be mindful of the unknown unknowns, what you don’t know what you don’t know. Ignorance can be bliss, but it can also be dangerous. Understand that you are always operating out of a limited pool of knowledge. There is no formula for avoiding blind spots entirely, except staying humble and being careful.
Element #25 Adjust The Sail
Have a realistic look at yourself and the world
“How one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation.” — Niccolò Machiavelli, Italian Renaissance political philosopher and author of The Prince
When Niccolò Machiavelli lived in exile, he was working on his political treatise that he hoped would land him a position within the Florentine government. Every evening, he sat down to write, inspired by his own experiences and ideas from from ancient philosophers. In his book The Prince, he wrote down his impressions of how the world actually worked. “Since my intention is to say something that will prove of practical use to the inquirer, I have thought it proper to represent things as they are in real truth, rather than as they are imagined,” he introduced his readers, “Many have dreamed up republics and principalities which have never in truth been known to exist.” Machiavelli undestood political power through the study of ancient political thought and his observation of his contemporaries.
A s I embarked on my journey to move to America, I had to have a realistic look at my situation. First, I had to do military service which was mandatory at the time, although now I think I should have just left. I couldn’t just go to America as work visa required a college degree. That meant I needed to make a plan to make college affordable. Even when I got to New York, there were many constraints that stayed on. While I was enrolled in school, I wasn’t allowed to work, not even to finance basic necessities. My application for economic hardship was rejected, so I had to find my own way. The constraints would keep me resourceful and creative and would help me find other solutions that allowed me to survive.
You need to understand where you are at and where the world is at. You need to have an honest and realistic look at yourself and the world. Find the balance between optimism and pessimism, but always lean towards optimism.
Element #26 Kindle Your Imagination
Imagine where you could go
“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” — Thomas Paine, revolutionary, founding father and author of Common Sense
When World War II ended, Europe was devastated. For most of its history, Europe was in a state of war. As a result of the atrocities that occurred during WWII European statesmen came together to reimagine a new kind of Europe. A Europe that would promote peace. The foundation of the European Union wasn’t perfect, but it was a step into imagining a future that was different to Europe’s history. Just like with the foundation of the United States, the foundation had its flaw, but over 60 years later despite current turmoil that puts the European project into question it is still standing and has brought peace to the European continent as it was never possible.
When I planned to move to the United States to pursue my dreams, I used my imagination to get there. In light of the lack of resources, I focused on relying on my imagination, rather than be constrained by reality. I used my childhood memories to re-imagine my life, imagining what I could become. If I had extrapolated from the last few years of high school, I doubt I would have changed my life at all. Imagination combined with sweat and courage is what made it happen.
Move forward with a sense of idealism and manifest the life that you imagine. The world is malleable and your thoughts can transpire into reality. Apply your knowledge and imagine how the world could be.
Element #27 Collect Your Findings
Keep a commonplace book
“We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application and learn them so well that words become works.” — Seneca, Roman statesman, speculator and philosopher
When young Charles was young he dreamed of traveling the world. In 1831, he began his journey on the HMS Beagle, who got assigned by the British Crown to map sea routes around South America. Searching for a naturalist, young Charles was able to win the captain’s approval with his passion for the mission. Over the course of his journey, he collected various different specimens, including birds, plants and fossils. His study of specimen, observing wildlife and fossils eventually led to the theory of evolution. Collecting his findings directly assisted in the development of his theory that explains biological change and the process of natural selection.
Keeping a commonplace book has helped me to organize my thoughts of how I understand myself and the world. Whenever I learn something new, I keep notes on whatever I find about the topic. I have small notes with hashtags, so I can refer back to them later. For example, for this book I have been collecting different material for every element for years. Whenever I find something new, I save it — ideas, quotes, stories, and anecdotes. The commonplace book has been an indispensable tool for my work. By collecting my findings, I have created a personal and valuable repository into I can tap into at all times.
Collect what you learn about yourself and the world in a commonplace book. It will be an indispensable source of inspiration. After you save a new finding, you can gain new insights on whatever you seek to learn next.
Element #28 Record Your Learning
Tracking what you learn creates a virtuous circle of learning
“What gunpowder did for war the printing press has done for the mind.”
– Wendell Phillips, American abolitionist, orator and lawyer
Before the printing press was invented, for a book to be copied someone had to painstakingly copy it word for word into a second book. It was an expensive and long process. But Johannes Gutenberg saw an opportunity and in 1450 developed the process of moveable type printing that would forever change how the world read. By replacing the hand with the machine, Gutenberg turned printing into a manufacturing process. As the production cost of books had now been reduced, the supply and demand for books exploded. There was a huge boom in literacy. The world had discovered a new medium to record its learning. Those books in turn accelerated the spread of ideas and altered how people would accesss information.
A t the end of every week, I sit down and reflect on what I have been learning that week. I reflect on the trials and triumphs, and what I can do to improve my work. Recording my learning has become an indispensable habit to accelerate my life.
If you don’t record your learning, you will lose it. If you track it you can learn how you improved or where you still need to improve. Find a coach or be your own coach butrecord what your learning. If you improve 1% every day, that compounds to 3700% in one year.
Element #29 Learn By Doing
Experience is the best teacher
“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” — Aristotle, Greek philosopher
A s a pastor and religious, Martin Luther King Jr. looked at society and the rampant racism that was everywhere. Like many he recognized that the separate but equal laws were wrong, but he found a way to do something about it. He catalyzed a turning point in the fight for civil rights but he had to learn how to do everything and mostly he learned by doing. Inspired by Gandhi’s activism, he organized civil rights protests. He risked his life to champion what he thought need to change in society. When he was assassinated, his death galvanized into political flowering and he became an eternal symbol for the civil rights movement, inspiring others to follow in his footsteps.
I have always been inspired by people who think deeply about the world and then go do something about it. During my time at graduate school, I became involved with the innovation lab, a building dedicated to entrepreneurs for experimenting with their ideas. I always enjoyed the intersection of thinking and action, and the lab was the perfect platform to catalyze that intersection. It always thought that the main purpose of a university should be to catalyze thought into action. It was also a great way of learning, as I could practice what I learned in the classroom in real life. It established a two-way feedback loop between learning and action.
Books and reading are great teachers. But experience is another great way to learn. Create a two-way feedback loop between your learning and action. Immediate feedback through doing will accelerate your learning.
Element #30 Develop Your Expertise
Find your position of leverage
“True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes.” — Daniel Kahneman
Since she was a child, Jane Goodall was interested in the outdoors, but it was when she received a monkey as a stuffed animal that she an inkling of what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Living on a farm she spent time in a henhouse watching how hens lay eggs. She founded the Alligator Society, a club for teenagers where members had to identify different animals. On her first trip to Africa, she spent time with a famed anthropologist where she began to study chimpanzees — a passion she never lost. She figured out how to spend time with the chimpanzees without coming off as threatning and soon they tolerated her presence. The more time she spent with the animals, the more they began socializing with her. After she was accepted, she was able to learn more about their behavior. For example, she noticed how they use tools. Throughout her work with the chimpanzees, she discovered chimpanzee behavior that had been unknown before. By developing her expertise, she has been recognized as one of the world’s leading experts in her field.
When I began learning I realized what I enjoy most was starting things, creating new possibilities that other don’t believe are possible, or that are needed. I struggled with this a long time, because I was doing so many different things, but then I realized how important it is to position yourself. Putting people together, building structures, and being a social architect was something that I always enjoyed doing and it combined all my different interests.
You don’t have to do a Ph.D. to become to develop expertise in the field of your choice. Expertise flows from following your curiosity and learning as much as you can about something you enjoy doing.
Element #31 Exude Confidence
Believe in yourself or nobody else will
“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are.” — Muhammad Ali, legendary boxer, activist and regarded as one of the most significant sports figures of the 20th century
After growing bored with his life in New York, Harvey Milk moved to San Francisco to open a camera shop in the heart of the city’s gay community. Since high school he knew that he was gay, but didn’t speak to anyone about it until moving to the Bay Area. As he became more politically active during his time in San Francisco he started to speak up. When he won seat to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, he became the city’s first openly gay officer, and one of the first openly in gay official in the country. He believed in himself and by being the first openly gay officer he inspired the entire LGBT community. Sadly, his remarkable career was cut short when one year after his inauguration he was tragically assassinated. To his day, however, Harvey Milk remains a symbol for activism and champion of civil rights for homosexuals.
When I first came to New York after high school, I could barely speak English. In school, I was one of the first students when it came to learning English. Then I lived in the US, and had to speak the language every day. I was practicing daily, and probably made mistakes with every other sentence. But only through that trial and error and believing that I could become better did I improve my language skill. Today I can speak fluently. This would have been impossible if I didn’t believe in myself, because I would not have gone through the necessary cycles of learning to get toward fluency.
When you are starting out all the knowledge about the world can intimidate you. There is so much to know about the world, and you’re unsure how you fit into the world. But you need to believe in yourself at whatever you do, or else nobody else will.
Element #32 Be As You Imagine
Convert natural disadvantage into permanent advantage
“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment.” — Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor and founder of logotherapy
“No element of Mr. Lincoln’s character,” said his colleague Henry Whitney, “was so marked, obvious and ingrained as his mysterious and profound melancholy.” He was talking about Abraham Lincoln, who long before he became a U.S. President battled with severe melancholy. But Lincoln didn’t allow his melancholy to shape him in a negative way. He used it to shape his humble determination. He directed his negative feelings towards service that was greater than himself. He used jokes as way to keep him going. “His despair lay under a distinct hope; his overwhelming melancholy fed into a supple creative power,” historian Joshua Wolf Shenk Shenk describes him, “which allowed him not merely to see the truth of his circumstances but to express it in a stirring, meaningful way.” He used his personal struggles and melancholy to propel himself and the world forward.
I always knew that something was off with my emotions. It was a source of strength but also weakness. When my graduate school offered free therapy, I decided to go, and talk to a behavioral therapist. When she diagnosed me with bi-polar disorder, I was upset at first, as I didn’t like to label my emotional composition as an illness. Instead of taking the medicine that they prescribed, I began to learn more about it. I became even more aware of my emotions, and have learned to use them as a strength rather than as a source of weakness. Instead of being stuck with a natural disadvantage I learned to transform it into a permanent advantage. As they say mutant and proud.
Some of us are born to be different. No longer do those who were born or made different have to be slaves to the identity that society gives them. You can create your own identity. Build a future based on what you imagine and not what society tells you cannot do.
Element #33 Merge Arts & Sciences
Connect your senses to your memories
“The intellect can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing. Only through their union can knowledge arise.” — Immanuel Kant
When architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus, an art school that combined the crafts with the fine arts, he had the following synthesis in mind: “In a work of art,” he wrote, “the laws of the physical world and the intellectual world and the world of the spirit function and are expressed simultaneously.” The Bauhaus was a school where all the arts and sciences would be brought together. He believed that the best school trains the mind, body and spirit for synthesis. As Robert Scott & Michèle Root-Bernstein, advise we must reintegrate poetry with physics, art and chemistry, music and biology, dance and sociology and every other possible combination of aesthetic and analytical knowledge.
Whenever I brought people to come together for discussion groups, whether it was during my time as a student or today with the Junto that I am working on, I always strive toward bring people together from different disciplines and background. I believe that a lot of new insights will arrive at the intersection of arts and sciences. No true artist only feels the world, he knows it too. No scientist only thinks about the world, he senses it too.
Uniting your senses to tap into memories and knowledge, to get different insights from your immediate environment. You need to merge your sensations with abstract knowledge. All our senses work in tandem with the mind. Sense and sensibility cannot be separated.
Element #34 Become Yourself
Find your own path
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” — Oscar Wilde, Irish playwright, novelist, and poet
“You can’t fight him like a wolf, you’re not a wolf. Fight him like a man. Now, go!” Jaguar said. Growing up in the jungle, Mogli was accustomed to behaving like the wolves he grew up with. Only when he realized that he needed to behave like a human, not like a wolf, did he unleash his full potential. By doing what he was uniquely made for he could leverage his strength.
When I first moved to the United States, I wanted to do a lot of things. I didn’t have a lot of focus. Over time I learned what I was naturally good at and experimented with the things that I enjoyed doing. It was difficult at times to resist what other people told me to do, but I learned that whenever I betrayed myself it didn’t turn out well. I needed to trust my voice, and gravitate toward what I was naturally good at rather than doing something to impress others. Forging my own path has made all the difference.
Becoming yourself is a life long journey. Listening to your own voice, and forging your own path is important. Combine everything you have learned and bring out your originality.
Element #35 Discover Your Purpose
Find your calling at the intersection of self and world
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.”
— George Bernard Shaw, Oscar-winning playwright and co-founder of the London School of Economics
Born in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk’s dream was to move to America where he believed great things happen. Following his childhood inclinations, he left South Africa initially for Canada, subsequently moving to the US, getting a physics and business degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Upon graduation, he planned to work on the three areas that were most likely going to affect the future of humanity: the Internet, sustainable energy, and space exploration. As he couldn’t do them all at once, he began with the one that was happening at the moment: the Internet.
He applied to a job at Netscape, which had produced the dominant web browser at the time, but he never heard back from them. That summer he began writing software. He also enrolled into a Ph.D. program at Stanford, but asked his advisor if he could defer for six months. When his advisor he started a company with his brother, which was the beginning of Zip2, a company that helped websites like the New York Times to go online. In 1999, he sold it for $300 million.
He went on to found X.com — the precursor to PayPal, which eBay bought in 2002 for $1.5 billion. Encouraged by his first success and with the proceeds from the PayPal sale, he could now tackle the other two areas. In 2001, he co-founded SpaceX, a startup aimed at revolutionizing space technology. His goal was to make orbital rockets fully reusable and enable multi-planetary civilization. Just a year after starting SpaceX, Musk co-founded Tesla Motors, an all-electric car company. Its goal was to expedite the advent of sustainable transportation by offering a compelling alternative to gasoline cars. Today both SpaceX and Tesla are successful multi-billion dollar companies.
Throughout his career, Musk has worked on ventures that worked towards bigger unsolved, societal issues. Musk didn’t just follow his passion. He figured out what areas would be most likely going to affect the future of humanity and then he worked on that. He asked himself how he could align his skills and talents with where the future was going to.
A s I look to the world today, I do not see any single new country that is experimenting politically in the way that the United States has at its inception. However, what I see is technology taking that place with young people all over the world tinkering and experimenting with new ideas. New products and services that they are offering to the world, that makes life in some small way better. To see this happening on such a large scale all over the world is extraordinary. It carries the same seed of potential that the United States carried when it was founded. The purpose of this book is catalyze people’s thinking, so they can imagine a different world and work toward realizing it rather than being stuck in the status quo.
Living with purpose happens when you connect your understand of yourself and the world. Purpose arrives at that intersection of self and world. Once you’ve found your purpose, you live with flow. It means that you are on your journey of becoming yourself.
Element #36 Never Stop Learning
Don’t confuse education for your learning
“If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” — Benjamin Franklin
When John Adams was elected to be the second President of the United States, his wife Abigail became the first Lady to the second President, a job that didn’t have a track record yet. She never attended school and was tutored by her maternal grandmother, who encouraged her to read. She loved reading just for her desire to strengthen her intellect. Her families library enabled her to study English and French literature. But most importantly she had a willingness for life-long learning, which can be read through her letters with President John Adams. And in her own way she had shaped the foundation of the United States and remains one of the most erudite First Ladies.
Ever since I was in high school bored with the standard curriculum, and doing things in college just to show to the professor that you have done your homework. I was disappointed that with education often learning was not the priority. Therefore, I begin to create my own education, where I would maximize my learning. Despite having learned for so many years now, I never understood the people who stopped learning after college. For me learning is a life long pursuit.