My top three reads of 2016

If you are looking for book reviews, stop here and move on. I selected these three books from 2016 because they made a major impact on either expanding on what I already thought I knew or changed my frame of reference entirely. They should be required reading for everyone and especially the next generations coming up to make better sense of the world going forward. The following are just a few quick references to hopefully get your mind wanting to dive deeper on its own.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

A book about evolution this is certainly not, however, from that aspect it does bring up a question early in its opening:

Imagine how things might have turned out had the Neanderthals or Denisovans survived alongside Homo sapiens. What kind of cultures, societies and political structures would have emerged in a world where several different human species coexisted?

Obviously that did not happen but more importantly the linear process you see so often referenced in the ‘charts’ of an ape’s transition into man are misleading at best. It is actually more natural for separate species to exist at the same time than it is for only one — and in this case Homo sapiens…

Over the past 10,000 years, Homo sapiens has grown so accustomed to being the only human species that it’s hard for us to conceive of any other possibility. Our lack of brothers and sisters makes it easier to imagine that we are the epitome of creation, and that a chasm separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. When Charles Darwin indicated that Homo sapiens was just another kind of animal, people were outraged. Even today many refuse to believe it. Had the Neanderthals survived, would we still imagine ourselves to be a creature apart? Perhaps this is exactly why our ancestors wiped out the Neanderthals. They were too familiar to ignore, but too different to tolerate.

Something to think about and perhaps a reason why we continue to be so intolerant of our brothers and sisters who choose to be different through culture or have been born different because of race.

Moving onto the agricultural revolution here is another frame of reference that paleo dieters would appreciate:

The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud. Who was responsible? Neither kings, nor priests, nor merchants. The culprits were a handful of plant species, including wheat, rice and potatoes. These plants domesticated Homo sapiens, rather than vice versa.

The above brings you less than a quarter into the journey of the book which constantly challenges the common conception of how we got where we are and explains a lot of the challenges we still face as we move forward.

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Maybe you have read, or at least heard of, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets or The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Fragility. I have read them long ago and I think they started the shift in my brain that always itched about the BS (a term Taleb uses a lot) delivered from investment advisors and economists. (I have not touched The Bed of Procrustes yet)

Reading this book gave syntax to the barbell strategy I use in portfolio management today, and in general, far greater context to putting a word to something that gains from disorder — antifragile.

Suckers try to win arguments, nonsuckers try to win.

Yes, I would rather win than win an argument and being human it is sometimes hard to push past natural biases but as Taleb says…

We can also see from the turkey story the mother of all harmful mistakes: mistaking absence of evidence (of harm) for evidence of absence, a mistake that we will see tends to prevail in intellectual circles and one that is grounded in the social sciences.

Thus, reaching for the bigger picture even when life gets in the way can yield amazing usefulness. The best part of the book is that it is written with a humor of confidence few, other than Taleb, have the ability to deliver. As he said a while back on Facebook: “Be aggressive in private, be robust in your public work. You will sleep well at night.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk.

I have read books on psychology. I have read books on psychiatry. I thought, and probably did, learn a lot yet after reading this book my mind once again shifted to what I saw as the world around me. As much as people are different they are also different because of their past experiences. The statement sounds obvious but the depth of its truth goes well beyond the academic. One striking example was a couple involved in a massive car accident:

Not all people react to trauma in exactly the same way, but in this case the difference is particularly dramatic, since Ute was sitting right next to Stan in the wrecked car. She responded to her trauma script by going numb: Her mind went blank, and nearly every area of her brain showed markedly decreased activity. Her heart rate and blood pressure didn’t elevate. When asked how she’d felt during the scan, she replied: “I felt just like I felt at the time of the accident: I felt nothing.”

Trauma is a hard subject and gives foundation to the issues where overly prescribed drugs sometimes, at best, mask symptoms without solving any long term problems. I took it as good news there are ways help people move on, yet depressing that there seems to be so much in the way of real progress on this front…

Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.

At the end my conclusion that the only real solution to finding world peace is ensuring a happy childhood for everyone on their journey to adulthood. Though I am a firm believer that it is never too late to have a happy childhood, Bessel gave me a greater appreciation for the spectrum of the challenges for what it is to be human.


As I mentioned at the start — this is not a review or even an attempt at highlighting the most interesting parts. Rather it is an attempt to hopefully pique your interest enough to dig into the full texts of each book. (All also available on audio and Kindle) If you have any connection at all to what I noted above you will not be disappointed!

(Originally posted in Medium)

The best investment you can make is in yourself

I challenge you to check out the Tim Ferriss podcast with Tony Robbins entitled “Achievement Versus Fulfillment.” With Tony’s teachings shaping my own life since somewhere before 1998 the surprise for me was hearing a few simple, but powerful, concepts told in ways I never heard before. This story is about one of those gems…

When Tim asked Tony for what was the best and most worthwhile investment he made here were some of his thoughts:

The first one was going to a Jim Rohn seminar. I think I’ve shared with you I was working for this man helping him move, I was 17, I was in high school, and I was just trying to earn extra money and my father talked about this guy had been such a loser before and now he had been so successful, and so, you know when you’re 17, I told the guy, “My dad said you used to be such a loser and now you’re so successful, how come, what you do?” He didn’t like that response at first but he told me he had gone to this seminar by this man named Jim Rohn. I said, “What’s a seminar?” So this man gets up and shares would be the best of what he’s learned over, you know, 20 / 30 years of his life in an evening and saves you all those years. I thought wow and I said, “Is this happening soon?” Yes, he told me when. I said, “Can you get me in?” He said yeah, but he just didn’t say anything after that. So I asked, “Will you?”, and he said, “No.” I asked “Why not?”, and he said, “Because you won’t value it if you won’t investment in it.” “So how much is it?”, and he said “$35 for three hours.” “$35 for three hours!, I make $40 a week as a janitor, I’m going to high school, that it’s a week’s pay!” He said, “Well, just go learn on your own experience and waste 10 or 20 or 30 years of your life.” He said, “It’s up to you because I’m not paying for it and even though I can get you in I’m not going to, you decide.” I wrestled for a week with that decision because seemed like such a giant decision. I look back on it now as one of the most important decisions in my life because that night stimulated me and Jim Rohn became a model of what was possible to me of how I could help people out long term.

Tony went on further to talk about all of the people he interviewed for his book MONEY Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom, all of which were self made men, made similar comments — such as Warren Buffett saying that his best investment was going to Dale Carnegie.

For Tony, his best investment was in Jim Rohn. For myself, my best investment was in Tony Robbins. Seminars, multimedia products, books, etc, are all there to feed your mind and to hopefully shorten the learning curve rather that wasting years of your life figuring it out yourself, or worse yet, never figuring it out at all. However, in writing this story it also reminds me of your 24 hour a day, 7 day a week seminar you are always a part of — your peer group. You might be able to jump start a new life on your own but to take it any distance pay close attention to the people around you. With them for support you can take it further than even your own imagination can go.

Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom. — Jim Rohn

It’s your decisions, not your conditions that shape your life. — Tony Robbins

(Originally posted on Medium)

Relationship Advice

A couple of weeks ago, while on the set of a current project, I found myself in a relationship conversation with someone just starting down that road again after a breakup. He mentioned that someday he looks forward to having a family of his own and thus my two pieces of advice for him…

First, because he previously mentioned going through industry related podcasts on his travel time I said that’s great but alternate that that time to suck in information for yourself as well. I am not talking about books on relationships. No, I am talking about books, and other sources, on subjects that can give one a better idea of who you are as a unique person in this world. Gary Vaynerchuk talks about self-awareness mostly from a business perspective:

What works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. I want people to learn to be at peace with themselves, to understand what they can offer, because everyone’s got something. The key, however, is learning how to find it. Self-awareness can help you do that. Self-awareness is being able to accept your weaknesses while focusing all of your attention on your strengths. The moment you decide to accept your shortcomings and bet entirely on your strengths, things will change. Trust me.

The same concept of self-awareness is the corner stone of all successful relationships. It is understanding who you are and what are the big picture items important to a happy future for yourself. On the subject of relationships this could be anything from religion, to politics, to kids (as in having or not having them — a to go down the road even further, what happens if things don’t go perfectly in this area), to past and present trauma, to addiction, to outlook on health, to travel, to where do you want to live, to how do you balance life and business, to how do you want to grow, and so on…

In other words, get good a understanding who you are and how you want to shape your world rather than being the passive subject being shaped by the environment around you. Bottom line — it is time to be brutally honest, when no one else is in the room, to separate the ‘you’ from the pressures that have defined you without your permission. Then, once you have a better foundational understanding of yourself how do you apply this to relationships?

Hence my second piece of advice to him. Focus on the big things first.

The problem with many relationship ‘startups’ is they come together with a connection on the small things in life. You have chemistry, you seem to get along, you happen to synchronize well on doing things you like together, you somehow get committed to each other and when you get to the subject of bigger things it falls apart — or worse yet, you start to make excuses as to why the bigger things will work themselves out since you have already founded such a great connection. After all, you have all this time invested you might as well hold on knowing all this small stuff will somehow make it through the fact you want to move across the country make it big and your partner never wants to leave the small town they grew up in.

Saying it this way it may sound obvious that this is insanely backwards. Yet, to my surprise the question that came back to me, to which I did not have the greatest answer at the time, is how is one supposed to start with the big things? The answer that was in my brain, but just did not manage to get out well, is that you just do. It’s hard, it’s not fun, and it will both save time and create the happiness you just cannot have any other way.

Coincidentally a week later I was watching Daymond John of Shark Tank being interviewed with Jay Abraham at the Genius Network. When asked about relationship advice Daymond said basically the same thing I did on my second point but more bluntly. He made comment about how this was turnoff approach for many attempts coming his way but the focus was on being happy and not just making a connection. Thus, in the end when the connection was made for him, he already knew he would be happy and is now engaged to his fiancée Heather Taras.

Yes, people change over time and there is no guarantee of happiness forever. As people grow further in life, even if they are in perfect sync at the start of a relationship, it does not mean that they will not grow down different roads or at vastly different paces. However, growing together for as long as possible is better than tackling someone at an intersection trying to hold on as both of you get back up only to resume a journey in completely different directions.

(Originally posted on Medium)

Success leave clues… and don’t discount the teaching power of failure

failure-and-success

Tony Robbins says, “Model someone who is already getting the results that you want. If you want to accelerate the tempo of mastery, find somebody that is already getting the result and figure out how they do it, and do the same thing. Success leaves clues.”

I believe in that concept and another important aspect of it is modeling someone who is at the top of their game in doing what you are attempting to do. If you want to be a great tennis player and have an average teacher you will only become a little less than average player. If you want to become great — find an outstanding teacher. Only from them will you learn the little pieces of mastery that separate the average from the outstanding.

What if, however, you want to travel into the unknown and rise above the best or doing something that no one has done before. Yes, you can still model success clues that have led other people to go down the road to the unknown that lies beyond. However, listen attentively to the failures that almost surely happened along the way which, in the end, were most likely key pieces to their puzzle. True, you might be able to learn from their failures directly but more importantly you need set yourself up to learn as much as they did for when failure happens to you — because it will.

When living in a world moving as quickly as it is (and, yes, it is different from how your parents grew up no matter how old you are) you cannot afford the time needed trying to be perfect. You need to move, react, course correct, and move again quickly to be that model of success for others. Forget analysis paralysis — it is more like death than paralysis at this speed. Failure is a part of the clues that lead to success. Remember, Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you handle what happens to you.

Originally posted on Medium

The 2016 Election Recap You Still Will Not Find in the Mainstream Media

election-results

Stunning? Shocking? Unexpected? Maybe if you were only on the disconnected left coast and right coast of America. As I attempted to summarize in June — even quoting the words of Mark Cuban who had long since changed his mind about who he supported — the election is not about Republicans vs Democrats anymore. Though a quick place to rationalize — it is also not about racism, sexism, and other ‘news worthy’ points attempting to push everyone’s buttons.

racism

Bottom line — Mark Cuban was largely right about first liking Trump — as ironic as it can possibly be a billionaire is being looked at as not being a part of the controlling elite.

the-elite

How much was this a vote against the elite? Was everyone who tipped the scale a fan of Trump? We all know the answer to the second question even though most of us seem to ignore the first question.

hate

Was it time for a woman to be President in the US? Absolutely. I firmly believe as a nation that does not matter anymore. However, in this case, though people used different excuses to dislike her, the real issue is there was probably no one more qualified to represent the political elite than Clinton herself.

glass-ceiling

As much as the left and right coasts were in a trance the mainstream media was worse. They believed so much in the stories they created in their heads that they forgot what they were reporting to the people was not news anymore — it was more a preaching of the opinions they came up with in an attempt to gain following.

social-media

On top of the disservice to the people the media itself did a lot to create the hate monster they were reporting on.

brexit

The hypnosis was so deep that people still did not see the change coming even well into the actual election day. There was buzz that this new website called Votecastr that was going to call the future in 100% clarity — yet all of these prediction ‘experts’ were really looking for affirmation than actual predictive data.

exit-polls

Unfortunately these ‘experts’ do not seem to learn from failure…and even the masses accounting for a “9/11” magnitude drop via the DOW futures were wrong as the markets opened in the morning.

predictions

This election is the beginning of change. How it will be implemented and where it will come from is unknown and will probably be as much a surprise to the left and right coasters as was the election.

ec

Also, you would think that this election would bring some validity back to the point that Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have proved more than once. Which is, unless you are talking fractions of points, money does not buy elections. This entire election cycle, from the primary zoo to the end result, should further prove that and further supports my personal mantra of never giving to support either side in a race.

tv-ads-are-dead

If you want a political source some at least a little correlation in sanity The real election surprise? The uprising of the American people is a good read from Patrick Caddell — Democratic pollster:

For years, the political elites have governed America for their own benefit and to the detriment of the American people — this election is the best chance in our lives to take back our government. AGREE = 63% (with 46% strongly agreeing); DISAGREE = 31%

Voters were then asked the same two questions of each candidate: Which is closer to your opinion if (Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump) wins: the political elites and special interests win; the political elite and special interests lose.

By 65 percent to 35 percent voters said that if Hillary Clinton wins the political elites WIN. And by an opposite margin, the majority of voters said that by 57 percent to 43 percent the elites LOSE if Trump wins.

It is that last sentence, supported by the previous one, that is the punch line. 57% of the people polled thought that the elites lose if Trump wins.

To make your day a little better give The Risks of a Trump Presidency from Scott Adams a read, and if that fails…

pot

More seriously, remember this — it’s our American Spring

revolution

(Originally posted on Medium)