“Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and who turns to others in order to make up his mind.”
— René Girard
In a universe parallel to ours, there was an Irish elk named Jim.
Jim graduated from a small liberal arts college in the midwest with a degree in economics. And — surprise! — he has no idea what he wants to do. Following friends, he moves to Chicago and gets a studio.
One day, Jim goes to a coffee shop. He runs into an old family friend, Max. The two of them grew up…
Approximately 11,000 years ago, the Irish elk roamed the land we now call Siberia. I like to think of their story as a parable for understanding the burnout epidemic.
The male elk, or bulls, who were born with a mutation that gave them slightly larger antlers than the rest would win fights with other bulls over mates and could more easily fend off predators. Eventually, these bulls developed a selective advantage and were more likely to pass along their genetic material to the larger population. And so with each generation, the species’ antlers grew.
But then the problems began.
In his book, The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good, economist Robert H. Frank makes the bold assertion that in 100 years, economists will cite Charles Darwin — not Adam Smith — as the father of the discipline.
Darwin was one of the first to perceive the underlying problem with markets clearly. One of his central insights was that natural selection favors traits and behaviors primarily according to their effect on individual organisms, not larger groups.
Darwin observed this problem in nature, noting that natural selection often favored mutations that benefited individuals relative to the rest…
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’
— Excerpt from This is Water, David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech given to Kenyon College’s graduating class of 2005
Yesterday, South Dakota released an ad to raise awareness about the amphetamine epidemic ravaging the state. Its tagline? “Meth. We’re On It.”
To use the analogy of the needle in the haystack, more data does increase the number of needles, but it also increases the volume of hay, as well as the frequency of false needles — things we will believe are significant when really they aren’t. The risk of spurious correlations, ephemeral correlations, confounding variables, or confirmation bias can lead to more dumb decisions than insightful ones, with the data giving us a confidence in these decisions that is simply not warranted.
Excerpt from Alchemy, by Rory Sutherland, vice chairman of Ogilvy & Mather
“Food is the single most important habit that we have as human beings. What we’re doing is bigger than tech, it’s bigger than food, it’s bigger than I think any of the things that I’ve worked in my career. We’re fundamentally changing how people think about the single most important habit of their lives.”
– Mani Gopalakrishnan, VP of Digital Innovation for Kraft-Heinz
Food and technology are having a moment.
“All happy companies are different: each one earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem. All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition.”
— Excerpt from Zero to One, by Peter Thiel
Against all odds, the companies that comprise Big Tech — Facebook, Google, Amazon, and the like — have become villains.
Most ideas about how to address the issues for which they’re being blamed — rampant online abuse, the mishandling of user data, radicalization of both individuals and groups along the political spectrum, and the erosion of democracy — have focused on reintroducing them to competition…
noun 1. The acceleration of acceleration
—excerpt from The Age of Earthquakes by Shannon Basar, Douglas Coupland, and Hans Ulrich Obrist
There’s a famous thought experiment in economics known as the “prisoner’s dilemma.” In it, two men have been caught committing a crime. Each of them is placed in a separate interrogation room and effectively has two options: confess or lie. There are three possible outcomes (the payoffs of which are illustrated in the payoff matrix below):
“Wait, Dale got Hulk Hands?”
— Brennan Huff, Step Brothers
Christmas is here again. In a few days, those of us who celebrate the holiday will exchange gifts. And once again, like every year before, most of us will feign wonder and excitement as we’re presented with things we didn’t ask for and don’t need.
Why are we so intent on guessing what people want when we could just give them cash and the ability to choose for themselves? The answer is twofold:
Almost 200 years ago, in 1831, Charles Darwin embarked on his now famous journey aboard the S.S. Beagle. This was the journey on which he visited the Galapágos Islands and formalized his theory of evolution via natural selection. (The idea of natural selection was actually hypothesized earlier by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.)
Everything about the fauna on the islands, Darwin noticed, was simultaneously familiar and exotic. Animals typically diminutive in mainland environments were much larger on islands, and animals typically massive in mainland environments, much smaller. …