Paradigm Shifts, Creative Destruction And How You Change The World

Most people pass their entire life doing things the same way, never considering that it is not the only way of working. Yet sometimes things change and the old ways don’t work anymore. That’s when you need to step up in order to survive.

Aesop’s Fables have been told to kids for thousands of years to teach them moral lessons and help them navigate in a complicated world. One such fable is that of “The Crow and the Pitcher”.

The allegory starts off with a crow flying around on a hot, dusty day. The crow is exhausted from thirst, but keeps on circling in the sky, eyes alert, but struggling to find anything to drink.

Finally, he spots a pitcher. Excited, he descends down to it, only to discover that it contains very little water.

He puts his beak into the pitcher, hoping to be able to reach at the water, but can’t. He tries pushing it over, but it doesn’t fall. He attempts all kinds of different ways to get at the water, but no success.

Then an idea pops into his head. He collects stones nearby and stacks them next to the pitcher.

Picking them up with his beak, he starts dropping these stones into the pitcher, one by one. Slowly, but surely the water level starts rising and gets a little higher with each stone thrown in.

Finally, he puts in the last few stones, and the water level in the pitcher rises high enough for him to put his beak into it and drink.

There are several moral lessons to be learned from this little story. Hard work, persistence and ingenuity are all things that ancient commentators saw as the things you were supposed to take out of it.

The little crow failed several times, but got back up and tried in a different way, persisting where others would have given up. He was also smart in noticing how the world works around him and applying that to solve the problem. The crow had a goal and didn’t stop until he achieved it.

One moral stands above the rest though: necessity is the mother of invention.

Old ways of doing things didn’t work any more. The crow tried all the traditional ways of getting at the water, but not one of them worked.

In order to survive, he needed to start thinking outside the box.

As a result of that little incident, the crow experienced an internal paradigm shift. However this was not only a change in how he views the world, but a change in how he works in the world.

He realized that he didn’t need to rely only on his own body to do things, but that he could use other objects lying around to help him perform different jobs better.

The crow became a tool user.

The story is not far from the truth, in fact modern crows have been studied and have exhibited similar problem-solving and tool-using techniques.

Once you learn that you don’t need to rely on what nature gave you in order to do your daily activities, but instead can pick up different objects in your vicinity and use them to help you, it’s a huge revelation and it completely changes the way you live.

You expend less energy, and need less resources to do daily things. You can also do new things, things you have never been able to do before.

It opens up a world of possibilities. Possibilities that had been closed to you before.

Chimpanzees and other primates have also been seen using tools in the wild. Different groups use different tools and techniques, which means that it is not an instinctual behavior, but instead a learned one.

It has been observed how when one individual discovers a new technique to do a certain activity, the technique spreads to many of the other individuals in the community. This new way of doing things completely changes their lives.

They experience a paradigm shift.

Technological Revolutions and Paradigm Shifts

When our ancestors picked up tools for the first time, they also experienced the first technological revolution.
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Paradigm Shifts, Scientific Revolutions And How You See The World

People are conditioned to see a certain way, believing it is the only way to look at things and don’t even consider the possibility of a different explanation for what they are seeing.

Plato illustrated how this works in in his work “The Republic” using an imaginary dialogue between Socrates and his pupil, Glaucon. This dialogue is called “The Allegory of the Cave”.

Imagine being a prisoner chained inside of a cave. You have been in this situation since you were born, and your chains prevent you from moving, so that even your head is in a fixed position.

There are others chained in the cave with you, but since you cannot move your head, you cannot see them directly. You can only see the wall in front of you.

Behind your back is a fire that is burning bright and between that fire and your back is a raised walkway and a wall. Hidden behind this wall are the puppet masters, who often hold up puppets above their heads.

The shadows of these puppets are projected on the walls of the cave, and so the only thing that you can see are these shadows.

Of course as a chained and immobile prisoner, you do not know this. You think that these shadows are real. They are your reality.

Since you have nothing to do, you would be bored often and to pass the time start playing games with the other prisoners.

You and the others would start trying to guess which shadow would appear on the wall next. Sometimes, some of the prisoners would predict (guess) correctly and all the other guys would praise them and think that they are so smart for being able to do this.

Imagine then, that one day somehow your chains get lose and you manage to free yourself. Now you are able to turn around, and even flee the cave.

The moment you turn your head for the first time, you would probably get a big shock. Your eyes would be hurt by the bright fire and things would be hazy.

You would see a big disconnect between what you thought was real and what was starting to emerge in front of you. You would probably not believe your eyes and instead turn back around to look at what was familiar to you, the shadows.

Then, as you are getting back to your reality, someone takes you and drags you out of the cave, outside into the real world. The sun is shining, the wind is blowing and the green of nature is all around you.

You would be angry at the guy who dragged you out and start feeling a lot of pain. Not being accustomed to light, the sun would temporarily blind you and cause you even more pain.

However, slowly, your eyes would start getting accustomed to the light. First you would only see hazy shadows everywhere, but little by little, the images would start getting clearer.

For the first time, you are able to see real people all around you. You realize how wrong you were about reality when you were in the cave, and start reasoning about all this in your head.

Armed with all this knowledge, you now want to return to the cave and free your fellow prisoners, not just physically, but also intellectually.

You go back to the cave, but as you enter, your eyes are now not used to seeing in such darkness and you are temporarily blinded again.

You try to explain to your fellow prisoners what you saw outside, but they don’t believe you, think that you are mad, and at last try to kill you. They feel much more comfortable in their version of reality, than in the real world.

The prisoners were living their entire lives believing in a certain way and thinking that what they see is what the world is really like. They came up with explanations of how this works and held them as truth.

They interpreted what they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears in one way and did not accept the view that it could be otherwise. They were focused on this one reality and way of seeing things, that they could not comprehend that there could be another way of seeing the world.

Have a look at the picture below. What do you see?

Have a look again. What do you see?

Is it a duck? Or a rabbit?

Most people at first only see only one of these things. They either see a duck or a rabbit. Which one of these was it for you?

Now go back to the picture. Can you see the other image? If you saw a duck, can you see the rabbit or vice versa?

Most people after a while, can refocus and reframe their thinking and see the other image. After a point, some can even see both images basically at the same time.

Yet at the beginning, they only saw one and not the other! It’s all a matter of perception.

Paradigm shifts

This type of reframe is what is called a paradigm shift.
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What IKEA Can Teach You About Making Money

In an interview for “Popular Science” magazine, Nick Offerman, the guy who plays Ron Swanson on the series “Parks and Recreation”, talked about his love for building things with his own hands.

He is a guy who has enough money to buy whatever he wants, but he still keeps a small woodworking studio on the side and using traditional techniques (they won’t even use a cutter jig to cut their dovetail joints!), builds all kinds of stuff out of wood.

To quote Offerman:

Keeping whatever calluses I can on my hands is an important part of my personality.

If you think about it, you are probably not that different yourself and neither are the people you know. You (or many of your friends) still probably keep that crude “bird” you cut out of wood in 6th grade during your “I want to be an expert craftsman” phase or that model airplane you spent months building, almost giving up at certain points, but always returning again to glue one more piece.

I remember how proud I was when I finished a crappy Tic Tac Toe game in my QBasic class back in high school. It only had some basic functionalities, shitty graphics, and wasn’t very exciting, but the important thing was that I had programmed it myself and it worked!

It’s a psychological effect. People feel much more proud of something that they had built themselves, than of something that they bought off the shelf. There is a sense of accomplishment that fuels self-esteem.

The Ikea Effect

IKEA is a billion-dollar furniture company that has stores around the world. It sells furniture that you have to assemble yourself, and that is the secret of its success.

A study that came out in 2011, examined what it calls the “IKEA effect”.

The psychologists behind this study had people assemble IKEA boxes, fold origami and build Lego sets. What they found out was that at the end, after successfully finishing their products, these same people valued them as highly or even more so than the same products created by experts.

Basically, people had a preference for building things with their own hands, over getting everything done for them. And this is exactly the business model that IKEA has employed right from the beginning.

The psychology behind this is related to a cognitive bias called the endowment effect. Things that you own (and things that you create yourself) have a much bigger emotional value for you than ones you don’t:

“In one experiment a social psychologist found that people were more reluctant to give up a lottery ticket they had chosen themselves, than one selected at random for them. They wanted four times as much money for selling the chosen ones compared to what they wanted for the randomly selected ticket. But in random drawings it doesn’t make any difference if we choose a ticket or are assigned one. The probability of winning is the same. The lesson is, if you want to sell lottery tickets, let people choose their own numbers instead of randomly drawing them.” Peter Bevelin “Seeking Wisdom”

This is also why people often get attached to their houses or cars and have a sense of loss when they have to move out or give them away.

The lesson here is if you involve others in the making of a final product, whether that product is a project, a model airplane, or a piece of furniture, they will value the final product much more than if they were not involved at all.
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What Is Your Brain?

Four thousand years ago in Ancient Egypt, if you were of higher status and died, you would have ended up getting mummified. The Ancient Egyptians believed that if your body was preserved after death in this world, then a comfortable life in the afterlife would be assured for your soul.

There was a special process that was applied when mummifying a body. The body was embalmed in chemicals and then wrapped up in several layers of cloth. However before the wrapping, the internal organs were taken out and put in jars.

The stomach, the liver, the lungs, and the intestines were all removed and placed in canopic jars made of either wood, stone or porcelain and sometimes topped with the head of a god. The heart stayed in, because the Egyptians believed that it would be weighted (and thereby judged) against the feather of the goddess of truth, morality and justice, Maat.

To remove the brain, a long, sharp object was first put through the nostril. It would break through into the brain and then liquefy it. The liquefied brain would then ooze out through the nostril. What would they do with it?

Once it came out, they would collect it and… throw it away! The Ancient Egyptians did this because they believed that it was of no importance for the human being. For them, it was the heart that was the center of all action.

For the Ancients, the brain just seemed to be some sort of a squishy substance with no real purpose, apart from filling up the head.
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That view began to change when Galen (remember the former physician of the gladiators?), one of the most well-known doctors of Antiquity, did a demonstration where he silenced a squealing pig by isolating a nerve that tied the larynx to the brain. In this way he proved that the brain was the organ controlling the actions of living things.

Galen was not the first ancient to speculate on the nature of the brain and its role in the body (for example Hippocrates did too), but he was the first one that we know of that traced out the different nerves and muscles and connected them to the brain, and also who gave practical proofs (such as the pig experiment) of how this works.

However, among many people this view still didn’t catch on and most still kept on considering the heart as the primary seat of human actions until the Renaissance proved once and for all the central role of the brain in the body.

The role of the brain

The brain is the primary organ in the nervous system and controls the behavior of living beings. It is the most complex organ in the body. The basic structure of the human brain bears many similarities to that of other animals, but there are also some important differences. These differences are what give humans the power to reason.

There are numerous basic roles that the brain performs in the body:

  • handles all your physical movement (balance, walking, standing)
  • regulates internal processes (such as breathing, body temperature)
  • controls your actions (whether through instinct or reason)

This happens when signals from the outside (collected through sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing) are passed into the brain, which then interprets them and acts based on this interpretation. Most of this happens subconsciously.

For example this is how the signals that are captured by your hearing are transported to and then interpreted by the brain:

hearing_mechanics_cropped

How does the brain perform its functions?
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Elon Musk Problem Solving: Applications Of First Principles Thinking

The first principles approach for problem solving that Elon Musk uses is an awesome way to find unconventional solutions to all kinds of problems. However this type of thinking does not come naturally to most people.

There are numerous mental barriers that prevent people from thinking in first principles. These barriers can be overcome with certain techniques, such as the generic parts technique and also by asking lots of questions. The hardest part of this entire process, though, is the application.

How can you take this knowledge and these techniques and apply them in practice? How can you make first principles thinking a part of your life?

In Part 2, we learned how to think in first principles. In this part, we will learn how to use that thinking in order to solve real-life problems. Here we go from theory to application.

Concrete examples from history

Eureka! Eureka!” These legendary words were shouted by Archimedes, the Ancient Greek inventor, as he ran naked through the streets of Syracuse. This word can be roughly translated as “I have found it!” and since that time has become a synonym of discovery.

archimedes_cigar_box

Archimedes was a really clever guy and discovered a lot of cool and practical stuff, but his legend was solidified by this one famous incident. The story that precedes this is the perfect example of using first principles thinking to come up with solutions to problems (and it even includes discovering some first principles themselves!).

King Hiero II of Syracuse wanted a golden crown to be made and assigned the work to a local goldsmith. When the goldsmith came back with the finished product, King Hiero suspected that the crown was not all gold and instead that the goldsmith had sneaked in some silver. However how to prove this little hunch?

Luckily, the King had Archimedes loitering around his city and so assigned the problem to him. Archimedes had to determine whether the crown was pure gold or it also included silver, without damaging it. This was almost an impossible problem and no one else in the kingdom had been able to come up with a solution.

This problem was initially also hard for Archimedes himself. He kept pondering it in his mind, but just couldn’t get around to figuring out a method to solve this little conundrum.

That’s where the story gets interesting. Archimedes was a cleanly fellow and one day was getting ready for his bath. He filled up the bath almost to the top with water, stripped down and then got in. As soon as he got into the bath, the water overflowed and spilled over the edge.

Archimedes noticed that as he got into the bath, the level of the water rose. This is what sparked the lighting bolt of discovery. He had discovered a first principle!

He summarized this principle in one of his works “On Floating Bodies”:

Any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.

This is the first principle that Archimedes needed in order to solve the problem. If he submerged the crown in water, the crown would displace an amount of water equal to its volume. Archimedes could then use this fact to test whether the crown contained silver. If it did, then the crown would be less dense.

There is some discussion on the exact method that he used, but no matter the exact steps, it is a great example of coming up with first principles and then using them to solve a problem.

And yes, the goldsmith was a sneaky, dishonest dude and Archimedes proved it.
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More Elon Musk Secrets: The Technique For Thinking In First Principles

If you want to come up with innovative solutions to problems, then Elon Musk’s approach for thinking in first principles can be very helpful. However it can be really hard to implement in practice. We have already established that much of this is due to the way your brain is structured.

Your brain encourages you to think in analogies, as this is the most efficient and safest way of thinking. So how do you break this programming, take a step back and start thinking in first principles?

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For some people it comes more naturally than to others. In an article on Elon Musk on his blog, Tim Urban, makes an interesting analogy (sometimes thinking in analogies helps 🙂 ).

He compares people and how they behave to cooks and chefs. With a chef, he means a person who invents their own recipe, while a cook is someone who follows an already existing recipe.

Some people usually behave like cooks and follow recipes from a cookbook, while others prefer to come up with their own. However almost no one is a 100% cook or chef. That’s why Urban introduces a culinary spectrum, with some people being more on the cook side, while others more on the chef side.

A cook takes some ingredients and goes through a series of steps to come up with a standard dish. On the other hand, a chef might use those same ingredients, but mix them up in new and original ways and come up with a new dish. For both of these guys, the ingredients were the first principles, but the way they used them was different.

When I was reading the cooks vs. chefs part, it struck me how this analogy is similar to the NLP meta-program on options vs. procedures. If you remember a while back I wrote an article on why people talk and behave differently. One of the main reasons for this is that they have different meta-programs acting in their heads.

People who have a preference for the procedures meta-program, prefer to follow a standard way of doing things, while those more on the options side prefer to pick and choose from different choices and follow their own path. People on the procedures side are the cooks, and the ones on the options side the chefs.

As with any NLP meta-program, no one is 100% on either side and instead is most likely situated somewhere on a continuum. Whether you follow a standard procedure or take a bunch of options and come up with your own way of doing things can often depend on the situation.

Even if you are a procedures type of person, that doesn’t mean that you can’t change and start thinking more on the options side. How do you move away from being a cook and become a chef?

The Architect: “Elon, you have come to seek me?

Elon: “Yes, I want to create a new function and then upload it into people.

The Architect: “You want to update the operating systems?

Elon: “Yes, essentially yes.

Elon: “However, the original program is still useful in most cases. That’s why I just want to create a function that people could call up whenever they need it.”

The Architect: “That is possible. However some fundamental recoding will have to be done.

Elon: “Cool. Now I go back to return to the Source.”

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How To Think Like Elon Musk And Come Up With Creative Solutions To Problems

Have you ever wanted to know how Elon Musk thinks? The guy came up with some pretty cool ideas and has become a billionaire. What’s his secret? How can you replicate it? Well, I have the answer for you. However I am warning you, it’s going to be pretty heavy reading and you will need to really focus and maybe re-read it several times in order to get it. The first part will focus on giving an introduction to Musk’s way of looking at problems, as well as some common barriers that often prevent people from thinking that way. The second part will give you some techniques that will help you solve problems the way Musk does, while the third part will conclude by looking at some practical examples of first-principles thinking. Another series of articles will look at paradigm shifts and how scientific revolutions happen.

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Supposedly we are living in the Matrix, a world that is hidden inside a computer simulation similar to the one depicted in the famous movie. This is a statement that was uttered recently by none other than Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla and Space-X.

This is what he had to say at a coding conference hosted by Recode:

If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now. Then you just say, okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale. So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions.

How did he come up with this? Whether the Matrix statement is crackpot or not doesn’t really matter at this point. Musk has a track record of some incredible successes (and some spectacular failures) and so when he says something, the world listens.

Neo from the Matrix: “Whoa, Elon! So you know we all stuck in the Matrix, too?”

Elon: “Yeah, Neo. I have been sensing it for a while. It just makes logical sense.

Neo: “How come you still plugged in? Don’t you wanna break out?

Elon: “Not really. I am pretty happy being plugged in. I have plans to go to Mars, create a hyperloop… Don’t really feel like partying with you in Zion.

Neo: “But we have to destroy the program!

Elon: “Nah, no need for that. We can just create a neural lace. This way we gain control, but the AI still serves us.

Neo: “You think we could do that?

Elon: “Sure!

Neo: “But you would give up on flying cool ships like the Nebuchadnezzar and battling those mechanical sperm-like looking thingies!

Elon: “Don’t worry. I am building my own rockets.

Neo: “How did you figure all this out anyways? When I was plugged in, I kept on detecting irregularities, but it was Morpheus who finally snapped me out of it.

Elon: “First principles, Neo. First principles.

Elon Musk has a very unique way of thinking that has helped him solve some really tough problems. At the basis of this is what he calls first-principles thinking.

This is an approach he borrowed from physics, where you start from a set of basic assumptions that you hold to be true and that cannot be broken down further and then reason up from there.

Let’s analyze a bit what Elon Musk means by first principles thinking:

I also think it is important to reason from first principles, rather than, by analogy. So the normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. We’re doing this because it’s like something else that was done or like what other people are doing, iterations on a theme. It’s kinda mentally easier to reason by analogy rather than from first principles. First principles is kinda a physics way of looking at the world and what that really means is you kinda boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say okay, what are we sure is true? Or sure as possible is true? And then reason up from there. That takes a lot more mental energy.

Musk states that there are two basic ways that people reason: through analogy or through first-principles. Using analogies is probably the most common way of thinking for the majority of people. It is much easier for a person to take something that they already know and apply it as an analogy on how things should work. This thing is tried and tested and so they think that that’s how things should be done.

However Musk believes that this is not the best way to think about problems. In his opinion, this type of thinking can often prevent people from coming up with the most optimal solution.

For him, if you want to come up with a truly innovative solution, you need to go back to the basics. In physics, the basic propositions of the field are called first principles.

A first principle is a basic foundational assumption that cannot be broken down further and that forms the basis of the thinking in its own particular field. All the other works in that field are based on this basic assumption being true and built up from there.

If you want to make progress you need to go back down to these first principles and look at what is really true based on them and what is in fact just a stubborn orthodoxy dependent on not being able to see beyond the way things are now.

Somebody could say… in fact, people do… that battery packs are really expensive and that’s just the way they’ll always be, because that’s the way they’ve been in the past. Well, no, that’s pretty dumb, because if you applied that reasoning to anything new, then you would never be able to get to that new thing. You can’t say, oh, horses – nobody wants a car because horses are great and we’re used to them and they can eat grass and there’s lot of grass all over the place and you know, there’s no gasoline that people can buy, so people are never going to get cars. People did say that, you know.”

Most people are incremental thinkers and think within established paradigms. They take the reality of the world as given and can’t really fathom that other different ways of doing things are possible.

Musk gives the example of horse-drawn carriages. For hundreds or thousands of years, that was the way people would transport themselves from one place to another. During those times, if you would ask a person to think of transportation, that would be what they would think of.

Ask a person now what transportation is for them and they will say cars, trains, airplanes… That is the transportation paradigm for people in this age. I am sure that will change soon. 🙂

You see that transportation changed and horse-drawn carriages have almost completely disappeared. This is because someone went back to first principles and completely changed the fundamentals of transportation.

And for batteries, they would say, oh, it’s going to cost – you know, historically it’s cost $600 per kWh and so, it’s not going to be much better than that in the future, and you say no, what are the batteries made of? So first principles mean you say okay, what are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the spot market value of the material constituents? So you can say, it’s got: cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon and some polymers for separation and a steel can. So break that down on a materials basis and say okay, if we bought that on the London metal exchange, what would each of those things cost? Like, oh, jeez, it’s like $80 per kWh. So clearly, you just have to think of clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell. And you can have batteries that are much cheaper than anyone realizes.”

Musk gives an example on how you can challenge the common view on a certain subject by going back to first principles. He uses batteries to demonstrate this.

Most people assume that batteries are expensive and not much can be done to change that. That’s just the way things are. However Musk shows how he went down to the basic constituent parts of the batteries, the raw materials that make them up, and turned that impression upside down.
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The Indiana Jones Method For Learning Foreign Languages

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You have no doubt heard the story of the Trojan War. The Illiad and the Oddysey are two of the most enduring and influential works of literature in the Western world.

They were created by Homer, an ancient Greek poet, most likely based on accounts passed down orally for generations. Even 3 thousand years after the supposed events took place, they remain well-known to myriads of people from around the world.

For a long time, it was thought that these stories were works of pure fiction. Yet there were always people who thought that they were based on real events, real people and real places. One of these believers was Heinrich Schliemann.

The Life of Heinrich Schliemann

Heinrich Schliemann was a true rags to riches story, a man of German origin who grew wealthy by being a shrewd businessman. However today he is most remembered as an archaeologist.

He was a real-life Indiana Jones, travelling the world, living through many adventures and discovering great ancient treasures.

As a kid, he grew up on stories of the Illiad and the Oddysey and the great adventures that the heroes of these tales had to go through. Unlike most other people who listened to these stories, he took them at their word. To him, Troy was a real place which was now buried somewhere on the Aegean coast of Turkey. He decided that he was going to find it.

What is not so well-known is that he was also a great linguist who managed to master many languages. Wherever he travelled, he tried to learn the local language. He would often write in his diary in different languages, which resulted in him keeping his diary in at least 12 languages.

What is most remarkable is that he managed to do this in a world without quick travel, without the internet and starting off as a poor errand boy.

Schliemann’s Language Learning Method

He simplified the process by developing a method that he applied consistently. Supposedly the system that he developed allowed him to learn any language in around 6 weeks.

He applied this method every time he was about to learn a new language. When he couldn’t find one of the elements of this method, he always came up with a work-around.

The main elements of the method consisted of constant writing in the target language, reading out loud in it, and trying to get as much native input as possible.

He was a self-directed learner and one of the main elements of this learning were books in the target language. The key to this was one little book: “The Adventures of Telemachus”.

This book talked of the adventures of Telemachus, the son of Oddyseus and his quest to find his father. Since it was set in the times of the Trojan Wars, the subject matter was very interesting to Schliemann and never grew old. He ended up memorizing the story in the book by heart.

When he would start learning a new language, he would always try to track down a copy of that book (or some other book that he had read previously in another language and knew the story well) in his target language.

That way, he could compare the two texts and learn new words and grammar structures by reading along in a new language, as well as in a language he already knew.
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Beware Of Advice: What Can You Really Learn From Successful People?

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Successful people are often used as examples for others. The message that you often hear is that if you do things like them, you too can become successful. Follow what they do, act like them and riches beyond your wildest imagination will come knocking at your door.

However one of the things that I have been thinking about lately is what lessons can you really learn from these types of cases. Are there relevant things that you can pick out and use them as blueprints for your life or is this just a case of survivor bias coming into play?

This question goes to the heart of self-improvement and any type of advice, in different kinds of fields (business, life, fitness).

It’s very hard to differentiate sometimes. I too have often used examples of successful people in order to illustrate some point or lesson. On the other hand, I have also said that you need to take everything with a grain of salt and warned against taking any type of advice without thinking whether it applies to you and your circumstances.

There are many people who try to present themselves as gurus or authorities and convince people to do what they are saying. Many of these people don’t do it to help others, but instead just to line their own pockets or to increase their influence. Sometimes this advice can be downright dangerous.

Not everyone is out to get you though and some people do offer tips in order to genuinely help others. However even this has its own problems. Most successful people downplay the influence of luck and much of this advice does not take into account randomness, survivor bias or hindsight bias.

David McRaney (author of “You Are Not So Smart”) describes the magical, almost mystical pull of survivor bias in this way:

Survivorship bias pulls you toward bestselling diet gurus, celebrity CEOs, and superstar athletes. It’s an unavoidable tick, the desire to deconstruct success like a thieving magpie and pull away the shimmering bits. You look to the successful for clues about the hidden, about how to better live your life, about how you too can survive similar forces against which you too struggle.

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