The Thinker: The Philosophy of Thinking

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

This post is the second part in a three-part series of a preview of my book The Thinker, a playbook that makes you a better thinker. The book uncovers the elements of change and liberates your thinking. Every element features an illustration, a quote, a historical anecdote, a personal story, and a short lesson, or rather a reminder to myself.

The first part was about understanding yourself and the world. The second part — this part — is about how to think about thinking. It gives you elements for more structured ways of thinking. The third part is the action part and how you can translate your thoughts into action.

In an age of accelerating technology where hands and machines get merged, thinking is still going to be a vital way of outperforming everyone else, as it always has been. Having a structured way of thinking is critical to succeed in this century. For example, the most successful chess players are those who play with the machine. The most successful individuals will be those who understand themselves and the world around them, and then know how to think and translate that into action.

If you haven’t read the first part, I recommend you to read the first part before starting this part. Thinking is more powerful once you understand the world and yourself better.

Keep in mind this is a very rough draft, and far from the final version. It is not entirely clean, and didn’t go through rounds of edits and feedback yet. In other words, this is an experiment.

Element #37 Dare To Think

You become what you think

The Thinker statue by Rodin

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” — Albert Einstein

When John Locke published his Two Treatises of Government in 1689, about a hundred years later his ideas would influence how the American founding fathers were thinking. In his Two Treatises, he insisted upon separation of powers that influenced the American checks and balances system. Locke was concerned with natural born rights, which influenced America’s inalienable rights. He was a deep political thinker who had a direct influence on how an entire country was founded.

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 contemplative in my early years of moving to America. I became obsessed with thinking, at times probably overthinking with certain subjects. I learned that thinking is important, but it needs to be done in the right way.

Thinking is powerful if it is done in the right way. It can make you or break you. Having a structured way of thinking helps you to navigate through the thousands of thoughts you have every day.

Element #38 Think For Yourself

Keep an independent spirit

The Declaration of Independence (1776)

“The great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson, essayist, lecturer, and poet who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century

D o you know the story of the five monkeys in a cage? Five monkeys are thrown into a cafe, with enough food and water at the bottom of the cage. The food isn’t any special, and there is not much to do so the monkeys lead a boring life. There is a stalk of bananas at the top of the cage plus a ladder that a scientist who trapped the monkeys provided. As the first monkey tries to reach the fire hose, the scientist from outside soaks the monkey with cold water that tried to get the banana and all the other monkeys, too. Over the next few days, the monkeys try again and the same thing happens over. Soon whatever monkey tries to climb up the ladder gets beaten up by the other ones and soon all the monkeys decide to stop trying. After a while the scientist replaces one of the monkeys. The new monkey tries to climb up the ladder but gets discouraged by the other monkey. Over the next weeks, the scientists replaces all existing monkeys with new monkeys until none of the old ones remain in the cage. Yet one surprising fact remains: every monkey knows that you are not supposed to climb the ladder.

When I became interested in the markets, I observed a pattern among successful investors: they all thought independently and studied philosophy. Billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros studied philosophy under Karl Popper at the London School of Economics. André Kostolany studied philosophy before his father sent him to Paris to work as a stockbroker. Contrarian investor Peter Thiel received his B.A. in philosophy from Stanford. They all found ways of thinking independently. They learned to think for themselves. In 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson published his essay on self-reliance that helped generations of thinkers to rely on themselves. What he wrote in his essay is that it is important to trust your own voice and don’t give so much weight to the thought of others. What made great thinkers great is that they didn’t disregard their own thoughts. Don’t try to copy someone else. Envy leads to imitation. “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment,” he wrote. Don’t try to conform to society, he advocated. Conformity turns your true expression into mediocrity. When you are with other it is easy to be locked into their way of thinking. To think for yourself means taking responsibility and trusting your own voice.

Don’t let anyone else tell you what to think, what you want to learn or who you want to become. You are the captain of your life. Many people are caught up in conventional thinking. You need to think outside the established framework and examine things yourself.

Element #39 Stay Present

Intuition comes from being present

Automat by Edward Hopper

“You must dispense with these two things: fear of the future, and the recollection of ancient ills. The latter no longer concerns me, the former has yet to concern me.” — Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher and statesman

When 18th century French philosopher Diderot attended a dinner party where he engaged in a debate, he couldn’t really challenge his opponent even though he knew the topic well. When he noticed that he wasn’t himself, he left the party. He knew he had the answer but it came too late, yet after he left he found the retort. However he wasn’t in the present moment have the presence of mind to get that retort when he was in the moment. When he reflected on his experience, “Diderot wrote, “A sensitive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument leveled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again [when he reaches] the bottom of the stairs.” That’s where he coined the term l’esprit d’escalier, which is the retort that you come up with too late if you don’t stay present.

I used to worry about the past, and the future all the time. All the baggage that I would carry forth. It would be like carrying actual physical luggage, it just drags your thinking down. I couldn’t really think properly, because from all the things that I didn’t do in the past, I would be regretful and that would pain me. It would spur me to go, but it also impaired my thinking. And then the constant hope that the future that you imagine is there, and the failure to appreciate that a lot has already arrived. And the rush that comes through being busy but never really being satisfied is something that plagued me a long time.Then I overthink, and I don’t stay in the moment. I lose complete sense of reality. This is something that happens to me, once I lose the moment, I lose the fight.

You need to stay present. If you are constantly thinking about the past and the future you lose out on the present moment where all the opportunities lie. The trick is to live as if you would live forever and live as if you would die tomorrow. If you are constantly worried about the past or the future, your thinking will be impaired. If you are constantly occupied by what was and what has yet to come, you are deteriorating your thinking.

Element #40 Empty Your Mind

Keep meditating and carry on

“Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.” — Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and philosopher

When buddhist spiritual leader Rangjung Rigpe Dorje was diagnosed with cancer, he was spending his last days at a medical center. A lot of people were upset that he was dying, but he was more relaxed about it. When he was asked how his pain was, his usual answer was: “No pain.” A doctor observed that he didn’t seem to have the pain that other people of his condition had. Even on his last days he was remembered for his kindness and how the welfare of those around him was more important than his own. The only way why he was able to feel that way is because he was a deeply meditative person who emptied his mind and wouldn’t allow anything to upset him.

I used to be resistant toward meditating. Turns out the people that question it most need it the most. Just like running it doesn’t have to be as intense as everyone makes it sound. It doesn’t have to cost anything. In its most simplest form, it is just a breathing exercise. Every morning and whenever I I need to wait somewhere, I meditate. It fills up the time in a productive way, and refreshes me for whatever comes next. It’s like a break that feels almost like sleep in the middle of the day.

There are untapped powers to be found when you meditate. When you meditate you can get your thoughts organized. You can stop the endless chattering in your mind. You can recognize what is important and what you should focus on next. There are so many different forms of meditation such as yoga, tai chi, mindful exercise.

Elements #35 Liberate Thyself

Escape out of your own prison

“I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” — Harriet Tubman, American abolitionist and humanitarian

Born a slave in the early 1920, Harriet Tubman was enslaved she ensured whiplashes and carried scars for the rest of her life. He had to endure a lot of physical violence. Using her network the Underground Railroad, she escaped. When she was free, “There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.” But she didn’t stop at that. She continued to rescue her family. She became known as the Moses of the people for rescuing hundreds of slaves throughout her lifetime. She used to say that she could have freed even more slaves if they knew they were slaves. This story that change begins with yourself, and then you can always rescue those people around you.

I created a new life in New York, but I was still taking my old baggage with me. It took me a long time to escape out of my own prison. I would isolate myself, and be not connected to the world. I would think a lot, but have negative stream of thoughts. I would see the world but be isolated. I was in my own prison that I needed to escape from.

Escape out of your own prison. Often times we don’t see the prison that we are in. Slavery still persists in the world, we have only evolved its meaning. You are the only one who can recognize what it looks like. There is a saying that it starts with changing yourself. Don’t try to change the world, before you haven’t escaped your own prison. Escape out of your own way of thinking that doesn’t do you any good.

Element #41 Build Your Body

A healthy body precedes a healthy mind

“It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor.”
 — Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman political philosopher and one of the greatest orators of his time

When Teddy Roosevelt grew up he didn’t have the best physical preconditions that would be indicative of his success. He was near-sighted and had asthma. One day his father would tell him: “Theodore you have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. I am giving you the tools, but it is up to you to make your body.” Following this turning point, he lived what he labeled the “strenuous life,” living with vigor and conviction each and every day. Later at Harvard he took up rowing. He would climb mountains, and do whatever it took to build his body.

When I started grad school at Harvard, I noticed that despite running, I wasn’t that strong in other parts of the body. I had bad posture, and this would reflect in my confidence. I started taking up boxing as it trains the whole body, and would continue my running habit. Whenever I travel, I like to go hiking as it seems the perfect balance between running and working out.

You need to build your body if you want to have a strong mind. The body and mind are connected. That doesn’t mean you have to do physical exercise to the extreme, but regular workouts are important.

Element #42 Build A Safehouse

Your environment shapes your thinking

The Night Café by Vincent Van Gogh

“Live in rooms full of light. Avoid heavy food. Be moderate in drinking of wine. Take massage, baths, and exercise. Change your surroundings and take long journeys. Indulge in cheerful conversation and amusements. Listen to music.”
 — Aulus Cornelius Celsus, De Medicina, Roman encyclopedist and physician

Gertrude Stein brought together contemporary artists and influencers for intimate discussions. At 27 Rue de Fleurus, she and her brother had the foresight of creating a salon, which was the first modern art museum. In what would be known as 27, she would bring writers, artists and critics would together. Stein collected paintings by Gauguin, Manet and Renoir, and early pictures by Picasso and Matisse. She became friends with Picasso and many other influential people. When the salons became so busy she only had time to write at night. Her salons ended up becoming these intimate forums for the top thinkers, writers and artists of the day to shape the future.

When I got to New York, I couldn’t afford living on campus, so I lived in a bunk bed in a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn. There I would always meet people, I could improve my English and would have peers that could help me with day to day things. A semester later I moved into the Kolping House, a Catholic run residence house for young students and professionals. Every day of the week, there were shared meals and people would sit in the library discussing different things. It was a great environment and I learned a lot from the people I lived with.

If you can’t build your own house, be mindful of your physical space. It can support your thinking in so many ways. Similar to how you are mindful what goes into your luggage, be mindful of what people go into your life.

Element #43 Think Through Writing

Improve your thinking by keeping a private journal

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” — Isaac Asimov, one of America’s most prolific science fiction writers

A s her 13th birthday present, her parents gave the young Anne Frank a diary. She began writing down her thoughts privately, at first. She continued writing even during She began writing about her life, family and friends, and their situation. She continued writing even when she was hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. She wrote about the close relationship she had with her father, what she admired in her sister and many other things that she felt she couldn’t share with anyone. The diary became a record of her growing up, and how she saw herself and the world around her. She wrote multiple times that she would not reveal her journal. Today is it one of the most read works of literature.

When I started writing in my journal it began as a way of being overwhelmed with all my impressions and emotions and not being able to process everything. I wanted to have someone that I could confide my secrets in. I had a lot of friends but not many with whom I could share my innermost thoughts. So I started writing. What I noticed over time is that writing helps me to improve my thinking. It makes everything clearer.

Think through your fingers. It will clarify your thinking, and help you to understand what is important to you. The more you write, the better your thinking becomes.

Element #44 Sleep Well

Never underestimate sleep

“Sleep is the best meditation.” — Dalai Lama

Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba says that whenever he is not sure about something, or feels overwhelmed about something, he goes to sleep and usually in the morning when he wakes up he feels much better. Whenever he has a problem that he needs to think through, he goes to sleep and feels much better afterwards. In a lecture to students in Hong Kong, he says how surprising your perspective can change when you hold it for a while. “Things change if you ponder for another 2 hours,” he told students, “Whenever I meet trouble or difficulty, I will go to sleep and then think about the issue in the morning.”

For years I have been working late at night, because there were so many distractions during the day. But now I have come to realize that sleep is important, and I try to get not only a good amount of sleep but also the right time.

Sleep is underrated. It is all about the long game, and not just squeezing out every minute. When you have a good night’s rest, you can function better, have more creativity and get more done. Ultimately we live in a knowledge economy and every contribution requires creativity. And creativity requires rest.

Element #45 Build Your Tribe

Invite the right people into your life

Dance by Matisse

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” — Niccolò Machiavelli

A t age 21, Benjamin Franklin brought friends together to build a club for mutual improvement. What he called the Junto consisted of 12 members from diverse fields and backgrounds who shared a spirit of improving themselves and the world. They met every Friday debating questions of morals, politics and natural philosophy. The club also had a more active component where they would share practical tips on how to improve each other.

A t the LSE, we founded the Think Tank society to bring people together from different backgrounds and disciplines. I was in awe of the diverse pool of students coming from all over the world, and I was interested in understanding what kind of insights you could get if you would bring all of them together. To discuss how we can move the world forward with more innovation. Once a week at a local restaurant we would come together in small groups and discuss what was happening in the world, and how we could have more contributions.

As the saying goes you are the product of the five people that you surround yourself with. They influence your thinking in ways that you cannot appreciate enough consciously. Be selective whom you let into your inner circle.

Element #46 Seek Solitude

Take time to think

“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” — Albert Einstein

I n 1845, Henry David Thoreau would go into the woods, not to hunt, not to do something, but to think. He would deliberately face the essentials of life, and out in the woods, distracted by no one. He spent two years at Walden Pond living a simple life without any support of any kind. He recognized that loneliness can occur even amidst friends if your heart is not open. He experimented with working as little as possible. It helped him to avoid the desperation that he saw in other men.

W henever I would come home in New York late at night, I would sit in front of the Met at night and nobody was there. It would be 2am, when I came home from going out with friends. I loved the serene time even if it was just for half an hour. Occasionally a taxi would go by, and I would wonder how the people lived there. Usually there are hundreds of people going in and out of the museum daily, but at night nobody was there. There is something about having these times when there are no distractions and you can just think.

It is so easy to be constantly busy, and just check your phone, read an audiobook, consume content. But if you don’t have time to think about it, you may get stuck in a certain way of thinking.

Element #47 Simplify

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” — Leonardo Da Vinci, Italian polymath and symbol of creativity

Bull”, a suite of eleven lithographs, created by Pablo Picasso in 1945 has become a masterclass in how to simplify any artwork from the academic to the abstract. In his series he visually dissects the image of a bull to discover its essence. The first image shows a realistic rendering of a bull, and with every iteration more is abstracted away. With every image the bull gets simplified, and only what is truly necessary remains. Even though its a bull, Picasso’s bull also represents a symbol of virility, the Spanish people or even himself. The simplification continues through the last image when only a few basic lines are left that are essential to the shape of the bull. The final image only shows the essence of the bull. Business schools, as Warren Buffett says, often reward complex solutions when simple solutions are more effective. I have found that when people add unnecessary complexity to a problem, it is a sign that they don’t understand the problem. People think that simple solutions do not require much thinking, but I would argue that creating simple solutions are hard because they ask you to cut the inessential and unnecessary.

Whenever I start writing, it’s a messy process. In fact my writing is so bad at the beginning that quite often it doesn’t even make sense. But writing is also about editing, and editing your writing means editing your thoughts. And the more I simplify the message, and find the abstract, the better my writing becomes.

Simplify whenever you can. Don’t think that complicated ways of thinking are always better. Don’t be deterred by intellectuals who try to woo you with fancy language. As Albert Einstein said, if you can’t explain something in a simple way, you probably don’t understand it.

Element #48 Think Laterally

Rethink societal conventions and rules

“You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.”
 — Edward de Bono, Maltese physician, psychologist and orginator of lateral thinking

Frank Abagnale Jr. was devastated when his parents divorced. He ran away from home and found himself alone in the world. He started out pretending to be older, and eventually learned how to be a con artist. He faked a pilot license and abused the privilege of pilots to fly for free. In order to survive, he had to grow up very quickly, he later said. When it started he wanted to see if he could get away with it, and then it became a game, and the stakes got higher. He impersonated lawyers, and doctors, forging checked worth up to $2.5 million to fund his expedition. Then he continued the same game in Europe, until he was caught. After he served his prison sentence, he worked for the FBI applying his lateral thinking skills there. As you can see thinking laterally can be applied in both positive and negative ways.

W hen I was applying for fellowships at Columbia Business School, I had emailed most of the professors during the summer. But most were either busy, or not available, so I took it into my own hands, and went to classes to visit professors and discuss collaborations, since the fellowship application required a professor to sponsor my application. I began looking into what I could do to get into the fellowship program at Columbia Business School. The first step was finding a professor that I could work with on my research project. Instead of taking classes as other students, my obligation would be to work on a research project. It was the summer, and in a few weeks the fall semester would commence. None of the professors were on campus at the time. The only choice I had was email the professors that I was interested in working with. I crafted research proposals that I thought would interest the professors that I emailed. Unfortunately, none of them replied positively to my emails. They either said they were busy or did not reply at all. After a while, it seemed hopeless and I wondered whether my plan would ever work out. As the semester was close to beginning, I made a different plan. Instead of relying on emails, where the professor did not know me, I would go to the professor’s class and ask him before class in person. That way by telling my own story I was confident that one professor would take me under his wing. By meeting the professor it would also help me to find out if the professor was a good fit for me.

It went better as I thought, as students invited me to events and I already behaved like I was a student there. I heard about one course that was taught off campus. When I went there, the doorman told me that I wasn’t on the list, but fortunately he had been on a vacation in Germany the week before, so I persuaded him to let me go upstairs.

The staff greeted me upstairs, and I sat in the lobby waiting for the other students. I wanted to make sure that I talked to professor before just out of consideration for the class. When I approached the professor before class, he was shocked however how I had got into the office without permission. He reported me to security, which escorted me downstairs. I brushed off the incident, and continued my search for the professor. Luckily, that same day I found another professor who was willing to sponsor my application.

Unfortunately, the following Monday I received an email from the director of the institute, asking me to meet him at his office. When we met, he referred to the PIMCO incident and told me that he could no longer honor my application. I explained that I had done nothing wrong. I didn’t break in or entered the office without permission. He assured me that he would reconsider his decision, but I knew that he didn’t really mean it. He wasn’t even patient enough to listen to my story. From his point of view, there was too much risk inviting me into the program. If I he accepted me, and I created more turmoil, he could be fired. And if I got in and I was behaving fine, there was nothing he would gain personally.

Rethink what society thinks you should do or do not do. That doesn’t mean you should do things illegally. Rethink conventions and come up with better ways of doing them. Just because people have been doing them for a long time doesn’t mean it has to stay that way forever.

Element #49 Reason From First Principles

Don’t reason by analogy

“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.” — Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla, SpaceX, and PayPal

A lot of people in the past said that women can’t do many things that men can do and that is supposed to be that way. Well, Polish-born French physicist Marie Curie wasn’t deterred by that. She continued working hard, and proved everyone wrong. Although she was a bright student, she couldn’t attend the University of Warsaw as it was only for men at the time. Instead she took informal classes that were held in secret. She and her sister dreamed up of having a degree. In 1893, she earned a master’s degree in physics at the Sorbonne in Paris. She continued dedicating herself to science and in 1903 became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in physics.

I was hoping that by the spring I would be able to get an H1-B visa, one that was going to let me work in the country for up to six years. But I was traveling that month to Hong Kong, and when I returned, the quota had ran out. It was the first year since the financial crisis that demand for visas had picked up again. I searched for other visas, but there weren’t that many options. The J-1 visa required an organization to sponsor my visa, and all the organizations that I called were reluctant to sponsor me as I had already been in the United States.

I still had the dream to attend an Ivy League, and thought maybe now that my visa was expiring, I could bring this plan forward. When I looked at Master’s programs, however, there wasn’t any that sparked my interest. The only program that I thought I would enjoy was an MBA because it was more practical. Unfortunately, it was very expensive and the entire program lasted two years, and I didn’t see myself studying for another two years. I hadn’t relied on any external financing, so I thought it wouldn’t make sense to do so now.

A graduate program was a pre-packaged deal. Just like when you explore a city, you can take a bus that will show you the most important places, or you can walk around the city, miss a few things here and there but explore at your own pace and discover things you may have never discovered on the bus.

Maybe there was going to be a way to build my own program, where I was not subjected to the academic curriculum, but I would still be part of the university. I wanted to build my own MBA program. Some parts would not be necessary at all and other parts I could get at a lower cost. I noticed that in the UK Master’s only took one year, instead of two years, and so I would follow that structure in terms of length. I began my research into what made up the value of an MBA program. It seemed that the two most valuable aspects were prestige and networking. It was the prestige of being associated with an elite institution and the network to meet like-minded people. What I liked about the MBA program was that it was probably the most practical of all Master’s programs. I also noticed that there were some parts that weren’t that useful. MBA’s taught you how to manage a company, not how to start one. I also thought that MBA students were risk averse.

After developing the theoretical framework, I needed to find a way to execute the plan. The most expensive part of getting an education was getting a degree. Bestowing a degree to students is how universities justified charging high tuition. I wondered whether a degree was really necessary, when I already had two, and I wasn’t going to follow a traditional career path such as medicine or law that required degrees. There were scholarships to reduce tuition fees, but full scholarships for graduate school were few and far between. Then there was an option where by you could enroll into a Ph.D. program and when after two years the university would give you a Master’s you could drop out. But in both cases you would still be subject to the academic curriculum. I began to think that a degree wasn’t necessary.

The problem was that non-degree programs were usually not the same as summer, extension, or executive school students never had to apply in the first place, when arguably the hardest part about an Ivy League was getting in. I needed to find a program that was just as prestigious as a degree program, in that it required a formal application. I needed an official graduate program that would allow me to apply for another one-year work visa.

As I continued my research I found a fellowship at Harvard University, a program that was usually reserved for Ph.D. students. It was for late Ph.D. candidates or Ph.D. students that within a department at a university intensified their research. As a fellow, you would be a full-time student and have access to the same resources as other students. I discovered gladly that you wouldn’t need to do any of the traditional academic curriculum. You could audit classes, but wouldn’t need to sit for an exam. Like a Ph.D. student in his later stages of his Ph.D., I would have the freedom to pursue my own interests and follow my curiosity. I applied, and with a bit of luck got in.

Reasoning from first principles is the physicists way of thinking. Its natural to think by analogy, because we compare ourselves to others. It’s mentally easier that way. As Elon Musk says, first principles thinking means boiling down things to the most fundamental truths. What do we know is true? And then reason up from there.

Element #50 Channel Your Emotions

No matter what happens don’t let your thoughts derail you

“One’s suffering disappears when one lets oneself go, when one yields — even to sadness.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

O n an ordinary January day in 2009, something extraordinary would happen. Just 3 minutes after US Airways flight 1549 would take off from La Guardia a flock of birds flew into the engine. Both engines were lost and only seconds remained to make a decision. The entire crew and especially the pilot remained cool which helped to normalize the intense situation. The pilot landed all 155 passengers safely on the Hudson River. The remarkable skills of the pilot and crew captivated people around the world as TV and Internet news correspondents began to call the harrowing situation “The Miracle on the Hudson.” The most important aspect was that the pilot remained calm and executed from his experience.

Being emotional and energetic, I had to learn not let my emotions derail me, and then think things that don’t serve me good. I had to learn to keep a balance between impression and expression, which would help me to be calmer and more collected. Otherwise it is easy for me to let an emotion reign and control my thinking. I would know that when I would feel a certain emotion that would lead to a specific thought, then I would counteract with something that I had prepared.

You need to step aside, and keep the cool, however you can do that. Having a checklist can help you navigate through your life.

Element #51 Cut Your Negativity

Remove negativity in your thinking

“You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” — James Allen

When Diogenes, one of the fathers of Cynic philosophy, lived in Athens, he criticized many cultural conventions of the city. He lived a simple life and criticized social values in the cities that he regarded as corrupt. It was an honorable thing to do. He made it his life’s goal to criticize established customs. He lived a homeless life, having a habit of eating and sleeping wherever he felt like and turned poverty into a virtue. There were many things to admire Diogenes for. But he also criticized and embarrassed Plato, disputing his interpretation of Socrates and also publicly mocked Alexander the Great. There is a fine line between criticizing and being helpful in criticizing someone. And so his negativity also barred him from having the impact that he wanted to have. Maybe if he didn’t criticize everyone so much, his impact could have been greater.

It is easy to complain. I’ve done it so many times. Something isn’t working, and I just complaining. Or you condemn someone else. But that means shying away from responsibility. Your mind will find things to blame, and it will find a way to grow the negative energy. It’s better to cut the negativity and focus on solving the problem.

When you suspect negative energy, you need to cut the source and move on. Whether it comes from your own source, or somewhere else, you can’t allow your thinking to get negative. Your mind is like a garden and if you allow negative thoughts to grow they will just multiple.

Element #52 Disrupt From Within

Design makes everything possible

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” 
— Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple and Pixar

When Steve Jobs designed the office for Pixar, he designed the office in such a way that workers would run into each other. It would foster serendipity, and create encounters from different departments that would never have materialized otherwise.

When the Facebook bot store was released I met up with two friends together and we thought about how building a new bot could work. Any great product needs great design, and design shows how it works. Whenever I invite someone over for dinner, I try to give them a great experience, as it’s not just about the quality about the food, but it’s also about the experience.

Design makes everything possible. Everybody talks about design thinking these days, but it is really a way of sketching and modeling and playing with things, rather than just an intellectual endeavor. Design can expand your tools of thinking.

Element #53 Think Exponential

In an accelerating world reduce linear and local thinking

“Our intuition about the future is linear. But the reality of information technology is exponential, and that makes a profound difference. If I take 30 steps linearly, I get to 30. If I take 30 steps exponentially, I get to a billion.” — Ray Kurzweil, author, inventor and futurist

When Pavel Durov, co-founder of VKontakte, began working on his messenger app Telegram, they build a fancy messaging app that quickly eclipsed WhatsApp in terms of its quality and speed. Telegram was founded in August 2013. In February it hit 100 million monthly active users and delivering 15 billion messages daily. Over 350K new users sign up every day. Think about the proportions. That is the size of a whole city every day. We live in an exponential world. Consider Instagram, which had a similar story in terms of its growth trajectory.

The first time I learned about exponential thinking was when I was introduced to investing, and the magic of compound interest. As an investor when you invest money, the investment profits also make investments and can follow an exponential trajectory.

Whether we live in an exponential world or not, we definitely no longer live in a linear and local world. We live in a global, nonlinear world and that requires a different type of thinking. When we were hunters and gatherers not much changed, and we didn’t travel much. Today with over half a million people in the air at the same time, we can’t say that anymore.

#Element #54 Think Big

Shoot for the stars

“It can’t be a little bit better, because then you put yourself in the shoes of the consumer and they say why would you buy it as a consumer. You’re always going to buy the trusted brand unless there’s a big difference. A lot of times an entrepreneur will come up with something that is only slightly better, and it can’t just be slightly better. It’s got to be a lot better.” — Elon Musk

O n August 1, 1914, the day Germany declared war on Russia, Ernest Shackleton departed with his ship Endurance on his third trip to the South Pole. He dared to do something incredibly audacious: crossing Antarctica via the South Pole. He thought big. Ultimately his team got trapped in ice, and was forced to abandon the ship. They made it to an uninhabitated island and there was little hope that they got rescued. But they boarded a 22-foot lifeboat and made it back into civilization. All the crew members made it back alive. He made a fourth trip, but that one failed too, and he had a heart attack and died. It sounds like a horrible series of trips, but Shackleton’s spirt of courage and thinking big remains untainted in this story.

When I interviewed Sebastian Thrun, who worked on self-driving cars at Google X he quit his job to start Udacity, he said that he likes to pick a really big vision. With Udacity he is transforming the entire education landscape, re-imagining the university model and offering a compelling alternative with vocation-style courses. He told me how he had learned from Google co-founder Larry Page how to aim high. Certainly his work at Google X was audacious already, where he worked on a self-driving car. “You might as well pick something really big,” he told me, “because the amount of work you put in is the same that you put into something small.”

Think big and aim high. It will allow you to not sweat the small stuff and focus on what matters. If you are already putting full effort into something you might as well shoot for the stars.

Element #55 Think In Systems

The Tower of Babylon

“Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots’”— Peter Senge

Robert Moses has been recognized as one New York City’s greatest city planner and master builders. He built 13 bridges, 416 miles of parkways, 658 playgrounds and 150K housing units, spending $150 billion in total. It would have been impossible to build this if he didn’t have a system.

For investing and entrepreneurship, I realized that I need to develop my own system if I wanted to become effective, taking from everyone, discarding whats not useful and creating my own system. I needed to develop my own system that would work for me, taking in all my different nuances. You need to build your own operating system.

If you think like an engineer, you will think more about systems, problems and solutions.

Element #56 Stand By Principles

Having principles guides your thinking

“The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” 
 — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Throughout his life George Washington struggled with his ego. As an ambitious 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 commission 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 humility and surrender signaled to the world that the United States was founded on different principles.

I created this exercise for myself thinking about what my most important principles are. Since then I fleshed them out in writing, and since then the values have helped me to guide my life.

If your thinking is guided by your principles, your thinking will be easier. It is not easy to make decision, but having principles helps you sort of like a compass.

Element #57 Be Like Water

Don’t let your thoughts derail you

“When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.” — Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and philosopher

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water,” Bruce Lee told his interviewer, “Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” During his mentorship with core principles of Wing Chun Yip Man, the mentor suggested not to assert yourself against nature, or be in frontal opposition to problems. Bruce Lee was trying to learn that. He tried to achieve this through meditation and practicing but it didn’t get him anywhere. He gave up and went sailing alone. He recalled his trainings and got angry and punched in the water. “Right then — at that moment — a thought suddenly struck me; was not this water the very essence of gung fu? Hadn’t this water just now illustrated to me the principle of gung fu?,” he later wrote. “I struck it but it did not suffer hurt. Again I struck it with all of my might — yet it was not wounded! I then tried to grasp a handful of it but this proved impossible. This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.” He finally understood the lesson that was given to him by his mentor and be detached. He learned how to be one without feeling blocked or sticky. He now understood that in order to control himself he needed to accept himself and not go against his nature.

I was working at the United Nations on a project, and a friend offered to help me. So I allowed him to help me. The work I was doing at the UN was free work anyway. One day my friend messaged my boss directly, and when he found out he was really upset. So upset that he fired me. He fired me because I got my friend involved to help him for free! I became sad the next few days, but then realized that I have to take this failures as a learning opportunity. I can’t allow that one thought to control me.

You can’t be fixated on one thought. Like a ship you need to have compartments. If one compartment is full of water, don’t let it flood the other compartments and sink. In other words, move on. Cut your losses, understand when it is time to move to the next things. You can come back. Have compartments like Napoleon.

Element #61 Illuminate Ideas

Visualize thought experiments

“When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements and operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in my thought or test it in my shop.” — Nikola Tesla

Einstein thought experiment how he was thinking. He would have this experiment since he was young and he would keep thinking about this. What would happen if you chased a beam of light as it moved through space? he asked himself. His thought experiment of chasing a light beam would have been impossible to conduct, so it helped him to do it in person. His thought experiment played an important role in coming up with his special theory of relativity. He believed that words and numbers did not play as much a role as images in his thinking process. Einstein was a visual thinker. Einstein realized if light cannot be changed time itself had to change. In another variation, he imagined two twins born at the same time, but one of them is on earth, while the other one orbits in universe around th earth at the speed of light. He figured that the twins must age differently, the twin in space would age slower.

My post it notes how it helped me to think about this book. When I started organizing my thoughts on this book, I started using post-its. I would start writing down all the different elements that would come to mind for every part. Then I would think about parts that would work, and if they were actually elements. I would often switch them to different categories, or eliminate, or occasionally merge them. But what I noticed was that having all the elements on the wall was a great way to visualize them for me and help me understand better the overall message. It would act as a separate screen next to my laptop. And it was good to see the progress of the work.

Visualization is a good way to think, its a different way of thinking. It helps you to think different.

Element #62 Leverage Constraints

Constraints enable creativity

“Art lives on constraint and dies of freedom.” — Michelangelo, one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance period

When young Jane Austen grew up, her father encouraged her to read from his extensive library. She began writing in bound notebook, and soon started to write her own novel. On the evenings she would often read a novel out loud that she picked from the library. She continued to write and improve her craft. As a woman in her era it was difficult to publish her work in her name, so she began writing, but she wouldn’t that constraint deter her. She began publishing her work anonymously due to gender and socioeconomic class. While his father encouraged her to publish, society discouraged her. In other words, society told her that she wasn’t good enough. The constraint spurred her to writing even more ferociously. It wasn’t until after her death that her brother revealed that she was an author. Today she is considered one of the finest writers in history. The novel Pride and Prejudice is considered one of her greatest works.

Since I moved to the United States I didn’t have a work permit. Only recently have I found a permanent solution to stay in the country, and it’s many years that I need to think with constraints. One result of this is that I have trained myself to be resourceful, and find solutions where I otherwise would have stopped if I had the money, or not the same constraints. Having constraints increased my creativity, and made resourceful which is a good habit. When you have constraints, you become more creative. For example, not having money allowed me to focus on the things that matter, rather than being distracted and doing things that add little value. Often I would complain how not having the basic right to work, and it was true, but there was nothing I could do about it. But then I noticed that it is better to accept your constraints and leverage them. You need to be more specific.

People always talk about if you had unlimited resources. but what if you had limited resources. You actually get more creative when there are constraints. Rather than complain about your situation, you can see the positive in it and empower yourself through the constraints. Whether voluntary or involuntary, boundaries can focus your thinking. It’s easier to think outside the box sometimes when you are inside a box.

Element #63 Think Contrarian

Don’t follow the herd

“The man who succeeds in life must sometimes go against the current.” — John D. Rockefeller

At the height of the 2008 financial crisis when most participants were exuberant about the future, hedge fund manager Kyle Bass bet against the markets, and he made a fortune. In 2005 when things were going well in the stock market, he began asking questions about the booming US housing market. Money was basically free. While everyone assumed that the housing market would never go do, Kyle was one of the few people who bet against it. He noticed that for the last fifty years housing prices and median income and he noticed how the four years before 2005 housing went up 8% and incomes only moved up 1.5%. He noticed that there wasn’t one Wall Street model that had taken into consideration that housing prices would go down. They all assumed the housing market would keep going up. He carried a risk of 3% and had an upset of 100%, he recounts. He was told that this can’t happen, because the whole market would need to collapse. He began question the assumption that everyone made about the housing market and that it could only go up. In just 18 months, he would return 600% on his money, making a billion dollar. He is now considered one of the most successful hedge fund managers in the world.

It was the midst of the financial crisis. Everyone was screaming, there was blood on the street, and it was early 2009. Everyone was selling, and the stock market had dropped a lot. I thought that it couldn’t go on like this forever. While it was difficult to call the bottom, I thought I could hedge myself by oil warrants. I essentially called the bottom, but the warrant wasn’t the best vehicle to profit from that. While the markets recovered over the next months, and I was essentially right proving that markets were leaning toward one extreme, I didn’t make money, but nonetheless the contrarian approach served me well.

Sometimes it makes sense to go with the herd, sometimes it doesn’t make sense, but always understand where the herd is going. Putting yourself outside the herd and thinking about how most people think is contrarian thinking. As investor Peter Thiel likes to ask, what important truth do very few people agree with you on?

Element #64 Refresh Your Perspective

Change of place alters how you look at the same thought

Women Before Sunset by Caspar David Friedrich

“Change of place imparts new vigor to the mind.” — Seneca

At the height of the Civil War, US President Abraham Lincoln was disappointed with his Union Army’s Major General George Gordon Meade. He had not conquered General Robert E. Lee as expected. In a letter to Meade he verbally lashed out to his general. And what was Meade’s response? There was none. Lincoln had never sent the letter. The letter was only found amongst Lincoln’s other papers when he died. Why didn’t he send it? He defeated his critical spirit and changed his perspective. He let of his steam and instead of humiliating the general, he re-considered.Lincoln wrote what he called a “hot letter.” He put the letter aside until his emotions cooled down. This helped him to think twice about what he wrote. It channeled his anger and frustrations productively. Forgive me for things that I might do hastily, he would say.

My friend Nick has a term for this, when the cloud arrives, meaning when your thinking becomes clouded. Whenever I notice that my thinking is clouded, I try to change my place, and get away from my current way of thinking. Getting this physical perspective helps me to balance my thoughts. If I am all caught up it is difficult to move on with a new line of thinking. It is almost as if the same space is not allowing me to think different. But once I change my location, I can look at the same thing with a different perspective. Whenever I get upset about something, I try to work on something else and forget about it for a while. it is amazing what a fresh perspective can do for you.

Sometimes all it takes is a bit of distance to whatever you are doing. let it sit, take a walk, get a rest. Sometimes you have to travel, get outside your space… you can get perspective through travel, distance, psychedelics, other people’s view. Shower thoughts, or going for a walk.

Element #65 Think About The Endgame

Never forget the endgame

When Elon Musk started Tesla, he also wrote down his masterplan, which was constructed by thinking about the endgame. his master plan, how elon thinks through closed. His main goal was to accelerate the advent of sustainable transportation. He thought about the endgame and then reversed it back. Here is how he thought about the plan, in short:

  1. Build sports car
  2. Use that money to build an affordable car
  3. Use that money to build an even more affordable car
  4. While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options

Fast forward to today, he has realized his vision and even expanded on it. He completed his vision. As of 2016 Tesla and Ford have been the only successful US companies. He built the Roadster, which was the sports car for rich people. He then used those proceeds to finance the Model S and now he is using those proceeds to produce the Model 3. As Jim Cantrell, who was on the founding team of SpaceX, “What I found from working with Elon is that he starts by defining a goal and he puts a lot of effort into understanding what that goal is and why it is a good and valid goal.”

When Peter Thiel visited Harvard to talk about his book Zero to One, one concept that stood out was his idea of thinking like a definite optimist, and see the endgame in mind. He called it a definite optimist, someone that has a definite idea about how the future will form and then plans for it in advance. What makes a definite optimist unique is that he favors firm convictions. Instead of having many options, he closes his options and works on the future that is most compelling to him.

Like a movie, you should understand whatever you are doing, what is the finished product. Think about a problem from the reverse. Try to think about the problem from the reverse side like an engineer. If you want to escape the status quo, you need to believe that things are governed by cause and effect and not randomness. What distinguishes a definite optimist from an indefinite optimist is that a definite optimist has conviction about a particular future. If you want to build a different future, you need to pursue one or two things at the exclusion of everything else. And as Thiel argues you need to prioritize design over chance. You need to believe that you can have agency and that you can change not only yourself, but also the world around you. That while luck is involved, it is not the determining factor. As the old saying goes, dress who you want to become, not who you are.

Element #66 Change Your Perception

You always have the choice about how you think about something

“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.” — Marcus Aurelius

Viktor Frankly was a holocaust surviver, and when he was there he withstood enormous pain. But he made the most out of it. As a prisoner in a concentration camp, Frankl made the experience that one even in the darkest moments of life, the decision has to consider the situation from a lighter perspective. Even if the people everything is taken, free will, one’s opinion can not be taken from him. He learned this and then developed logotherapy when he got out of prison. His mother is immediately murdered. In the last camp he is in, he comes down with typhoid fever. but he reconstructs his book manuscript on slips of paper stolen from the camp office. To help others who thought about suicide he made them reflect on positive experiences. Afterwards he got out he used his experiences to develop logotherapy. He was in four camps. Afterwards he found meaning by having a vision of the future, and was able to thrive despite all the trauma and stuff that happened to him.

Whenever I get disturbed by a thought, I try to think about how I can look at it from a different perspective. I have made it an exercise. But sometimes it just requires a conscious effort to think about the same thing with a different perception. It is not always easy, but it can be done. I remember when I searched for these schools, and I had paid an organization $500 and they screwed me over, and I was devastated, because going to college was the only way I could legally come to the United States. And then it didn’t work out. As I needed to go to America, college was the only way how to get there. I didn’t have family in America, nor had I ever been there. The problem was that I had barely any money to finance college.

My parents never had the opportunity to go to university, which made me skeptical of financing college through loans. For me, college was a means to an end after all.

There was the possibility of getting financial aid or scholarships. In my country, however, it was restricted to students, who studied at home, or after beginning their studies at home considered to study abroad for a semester. In the US, many scholarships and all financial aid was restricted to citizens. Scholarships that were available to international students often only offset a small portion of tuition. What’s more, most information on scholarships was available only after you got admitted. With application fees of $50 and upwards, it was not viable for me to apply to a dozens of schools only then to find out that I wouldn’t be able to afford them.

Frustrated with the process, but convinced to find a way, I continued my research. One day, I found an agency, based in Florida with a German office, that offered access to their database of U.S. universities that awarded scholarships to international students. The colleges sponsored international students to create a more diverse student body. As I didn’t know any other options that were financially viable, I opted to pay the fee that the agency charged.

Out of the three options that I was given, the most affordable university was a state university in Louisiana, which far away from New York or Los Angeles, was unappealing but at least it would be a start. Perhaps after a year I could transfer to another university. I filled out the application, and after a few weeks received an offer letter with the amount of scholarship that was promised.

Now I just needed to wait for my visa documents and visit the embassy. But after a few week I didn’t get any mail. The start date of the semester was approaching, so I called the agency to ask if they had sent the documents. They called up the university and relayed to me that they would send another letter with the visa papers. At that time I had never been in direct contact with the university.

When the documents finally arrived, the semester had already started. I rushed to the embassy, and expedited the visa, but the following Monday I got a phone call from the lady who worked at the agency. She told me that it was too late to enroll for this semester. If I wanted, I could attend next semester. When I heard the news, I was shocked. For the first time, I called the university in Louisiana directly. On a small piece of paper I prepared what I wanted to ask, but the lady told me in a firm Southern accent that it was too late. My father encouraged me to book a flight and figure it on the spot, but I was so upset that I didn’t think it would work. Although I had put so much energy into trying to escape my reality, after high school and now again after military service, it hadn’t worked out. All my efforts were fruitless and I had no Plan B. I had applied to two universities in Berlin, but turned me down. Besides it was unclear how I was going to get closer to Hollywood or Wall Street by staying in Germany. For the next few days, I had lost myself in work. By the end of the week, I realized that I had a choice. Either I would let this failure define the rest of my life, or try again until I would find a way. By taking responsibility and relying on my instincts this time, I would not make the mistake of putting my trust into someone else’s hands who didn’t care about my future. As I needed to find colleges that would be financially viable, I researched hundreds of colleges and emailed each one of them. This was to avoid application fees, for which I had no money. I changed my perception about it. That is what I did.

You always have the power to think about everything from a different perspective… sometimes you just have to rethink the assumptions. Look at the situation with a new pair of eyes.

Element #67 Challenge Your Thinking

Get feedback on what you’re thinking

I would often get feedback from other people. People would challenge my thinking, but instead of listening I would take it personal. I would get all caught up, and lose the objective point that my friend was making. I would get defensive, and not listen. There was an opportunity right in front of me and someone was trying to show me, but I was too stubborn. These days I try to be open minded and always ask for feedback. Early in my job I would ask for feedback writing a report for hedge fund managers, my boss told me that if you don’t hear from them, it would mean they liked it. Not having a direct connection to my client bothered me, as I didn’t know how to improve the product without getting feedback.

The right kind of feedback can challenge your thinking, your ideas and your conception of where you think you want to go. Getting good feedback is difficult, but when you get good feedback listen — don’t discard it. If it contradicts you, you are likely to reject it at first. But embrace it.

Element #68 Decide Positively

Carefully think about your choices and then execute

St. Lazare Station by Claude Monet

“Once you make a decision the universe conspires to make it happen.” 
 — Ralph Waldo Emerson

A s founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos knows how to make decisions. When he quit his job on Wall Street, his former boss asked him for a walk to overthink his decision. On a long walk in Central Park with his boss, he tried to convince him, but Jeff Bezo saw the opportunity as too big. He decided it was worth the risk, and fail, despite having a lucrative job. He saw what was happening on the internet as a once in a lifetime opportunity, and he made the decision accordingly. He took some time to decide, but then once he decided, he made the decision positively. He moved to Seattle, and operated his business out of a garage, targeting the untapped potential of an online book store.

When I finished college, it was time to find a job, I wanted to learn from the best people in the industry. I was invited to join a small startup that that advised different clients on what was going on in the world from a global macroeconomic perspective. At the time, this was a difficult decision, because the startup just got started, pay was minimum, no equity, long hours and no solution for my visa situation. I noticed that whenever my visa expired, I needed to make a big decision, and often it was a turning point in my life. And from making those decisions around those turning points I noticed that whenever I had a commitment and made the decision positively, things would work out better, than if I made half-decisions.

Making decisions is difficult, and can be paralyzing even. Keeping a decision-making journal can help, but also having heuristics for making decisions can make making decisions easier. Now Jeff Bezos talks about Type 1 Decisions that are irreversible, and Type 2 decisions that are and where you walk through a door but a lot of new doors open. It’s important to understand that most decisions work like that. It is important to take some consideration, but once you decide you need to back your decision, and you can’t hesitate anymore.

Element #69 Be Grateful

Think in abundance

“Why are you so enchanted by this world, when a mine of gold lies within you?” — Rumi

When you are grateful, you realize that you have more than you need, even if you think you have nothing. I have a habit where every day I get a reminder that asks me what I am grateful for. It helps me to exercise gratitude.

Think about ways that you can eliminate the scarcity mindset. A scarcity mindset is not getting you anywhere, but how do you get to an abundant mindset when you are poor and have no resources? Think about gratitude, and you will see that you have more than you think. It will expand your mind. Having scarcity has its advantages as it gives you constraints, but also having abundance frees your mind. Even if it is just a thought experiment. What would you do if you had a million dollars tomorrow?

Element #70 Think Original

Think for yourself based on your situation

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” –Albert Einstein

Over complicated discussions over multiple sessions while Europe was just finishing up with the 30 years war, one of the most frequently cited diplomatic documents in European history emerged. The peace treaty was the result of many meetings, and it seemed unlikely, but it ushered in the system of nation-states that we now live in. It became a turning point in the history of the world, because the delegates were thinking original. They weren’t trying to extrapolate from the past. They were building a new future. The state was the building block of the new order. Rather than only having one center of power that was legitimate, the Westphalian concept understood that a multiplicity of states where multiple societies respect each other was the future. The universal church ended as the sole source of legitimacy, and there was going to be rules and limits and a multiplicity of power rather than the dominance of a single country.

Getting advice is cheap. It is hard to follow your own voice. Trust your position and then think in an original way. It is harder than you think. How did I do it? Usually when I think based on my own situation. When I believe in myself. When this combination comes together, that’s when I think original.

It is important that you think different, but that also requires knowing what everyone else thinks. Try to think from your position. What is in your interest and in the interest of the comm? How can you maximize your position and that of the world?

Element #71 Be Open Minded

Realize that it is possible

“Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.” 
 — Napoleon Bonaparte

A t age 13 young Eric became blind, but instead of feeling restricted by his possibilities, he opened them up for other people. Redefining what it meant to be blind, he opened a camp for blind teenagers. After climbing the highest peak in North America, he quickly turned his challenges up a notch. After South America and Africa, he set his sights on the highest mountain in the world — Mount Everest. At age 33, he became the first blind person to reach the summit. One year later he had climbed all Seven Summit — the highest peak on each of the seven continents. He inspires other people to transcend their blindness. He has done other athletic challenges. He inspires people to see possibilities when they are losing hope.

I remember when I first looked at New York. I had the dream of living and working there, and it seemed out of reach. I barely considered because all the schools were expensive, and none of them offered a scholarship, and then after sending out a lot of emails, and no responses, I didn’t know what to do. It was a rather hopeless situation, but I continued my search. One day, I found a small college in New York. I watched a short video that showed the day of a student. At the end it said Saint Francis College, the small college of big dreams. I immediately fell for the ad and looked further into the college. To my surprise, the tuition was lower than other schools in New York and the scholarships more generous. I called the admission’s lady and she told me that the scholarship program also applied to international students. After going through hundreds of universities, it was time to decide to which ones I would apply. Whether I would be eligible for the scholarship or not was unsure, but applying was the only way to find out. I prepared my application over the next few weeks, and prepared it very carefully. I applied to one or two other colleges, but my focus was on Saint Francis. When I had prepared everything, I walked to the post office and mailed the entire application to New York. Today whenever I meet someone who thinks that something isn’t possible, I tell them they first need to believe that it is possible.

If you have to start and see that it is possible, then probability will occur as Elon Musk says. Use envy to see what is possible rather than getting jealous.

Element #72 Stimulate Your Thinking

Find what stimulates your thinking


Whenever I am off, or need to stimulate my thinking, I listen to music. While I work I like to listen to soundtracks, as they keep me focused. It helps me to forget everything else around me and just focus on the task at hand. I listen to the same song over and over again.

Coffee, psychedelics, podcast, listening to others. There are so many ways to stimulate your thinking. Some are more healthy than others. It is up to you to experiment, and find what works best for you. Don’t turn it into an addiction, but use it wisely.

Element #73 Apply Your Thinking

Develop a bias toward action

“As I grow older I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” — Andrew Carnegie, immigrant industrial capitalist

“Basically, thinking is the most important aspect of my existence. I’m quite contemplative. I like to understand. I used to do a lot of philosophical speculation as a young man. I wasted a large part of my youth regurgitating certain ideas. Then I discovered that one can learn a great deal more through action than through contemplation. So I became an active thinker where my thinking played an important role in deciding what actions to take and my actions play an important role in improving my thinking. This two-way interaction between thinking and action became the hallmark of my philosophy and the hallmark of my life.” — George Soros

I spent a lot time in academia because of my visa issues and I couldn’t procure work visas. I noticed how little bias for action exists within academia, and how often there is a disconnect to the world. When I did my research at Harvard, I wanted to keep it practical. How can this help someone? Rather than just be doing it as an intellectual pursuit, how can this be practical.

Connect your thinking with your action and always think about how you can apply it. Knowledge is powerful when it is applied. Ideas are powerful when they are applied. Nothing works without execution.

Thank you for reading the preview of the second part of the first volume. There will be one more part that will be released soon.

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