Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Andrew Carnegie, Steve Harvey, Jay Leno

People often think that if someone is good at one thing, he's probably good at many similar things.

Andrew Carnegie seldom thought that way. When he hired people, he did so based on the idea that they were specialists. He insisted that his employees stick to their specialties. He did not demand versatility from anyone. He did not go too far in making generalizations about his employees.

The public tells us that general skills are more common than specific skills. It places spotlights on people's versatility, and seldom presents the idea that someone can be well suited for one thing and not at all suited for something very similar.

Jay Leno had a successful career doing stand up--and then he moved on to hosting a late night variety show. Steve Harvey started off with stand up, and then he branched off to hosting talk shows and game shows. These two stand up comedians showed that they were good at one thing, and then they showed they were good at some similar things.

Society spotlights those examples, and acts like they tell you what you can come to expect from successful stand up comedians. Society suggests that the typical successful stand up comedian will perform at a high level when it comes to writing and delivering late night monologue jokes, starring in skits, interviewing people, and hosting game shows.

But if you study stand up comedians in general, you will find that the overwhelming majority of the successful ones will not succeed when moving on to another form of comedy. It's far, far, far more common for them to produce subpar results when doing another type of comedy. Almost ever single successfu stand up comedians in the world has failed repeatedly when it comes to other comedy related endeavors. For instance, the typical successful stand up has starred in three failed TV pilots (after developing a successful stand up career).

Here's an even better example. The typical writer who creates a successful sitcom will go on to create one failed sitcom after another. His successful show will be followed by three to seven shows that are far from successful. Part of this is because the writer's abilities lie in creating a very, very specific kind of sitcom, and he lacks the versatility to properly develop a slightly different kind of sitcom.

The public focuses way more on the Leno and Harvey examples. It makes you think that versatility is common--which in fact, it's rare.

Andrew Carnegie understood the rarity of versatility, and ran his organization accordingly.

Gandhi and Cliff Huxtable

The Cosby Show's Cliff Huxtable is responsible, educated, friendly, fatherly, joke cracking, respectable, ready with advice for his children, and occasionally stern and/or angry. There's not much in the way of inconsistency or change. Whether he's at home, at work, at a party, at the park, with his kids, with his parents, with his wife, with his friends, and whether it's the morning, afternoon, or evening, a weekday or a weekend, he's basically the Cliff Huxtable we always know. Even when he comes home after a long day's work delivering babies until 4 a.m., he's still very similar to his well rested self. Whether he's behind closed doors talking to the people he knows best, at a dinner party talking to friends, or meeting an entirely new person, he's usually the same Cliff Huxtable. He doesn't have multiple faces, he's generally not subject to mood swings, and if he has a certain quality, he usually has similar qualities to go along with it. You hardly ever look at him and think, "He has qualities that contradict each other." Or "I didn't expect him to do that. I'm going to need to reevaluate my conception of him."

Gandhi was a complex human with characteristics that weren't necessarily consistent and pointing in one direction.

The "Gandhi" we know is made to resemble a TV or movie character. "He was wise, principled, pacifistic, disciplined, and a few other things. He was a saint and sage, the world's ultimate pacifist, and a proponent of universal love." The public constantly depicts people as consistent with general qualities. It's reluctant to say, "Gandhi was a lot of things--many of which don't always seem to match each other."

Gandhi supported and directly contributed to the British Empire's involvement in the Kaffir War and World War I, he supported a version of the caste system that included a class of poor "untouchables," he had a low opinion of southern Africa's black natives, he wanted German Jews to commit collective suicide for the sake of letting Germans and the world really know about Hitler's violence, he played the role of an almost all-knowing life-director with his disciples, he caused himself and others to become severely malnutritioned, he imposed almost all of his beliefs onto his wife and children, he disowned his eldest son for wanting to get married, and he banished his second son for giving minor financial assistance to his struggling older brother.

I'm not saying this to disparage Gandhi, but rather, to point out how actual people are not that consistent.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My Adventure at Bed Bath & Beyond

About a year ago, I was shopping for a new pillow at Beth Bath & Beyond. Now, I don't like shopping--especially for something like a pillow. and especially at a store like Bed Bath & Beyond. I just happened to come across the store one day and thought, "I could really use a new pillow." So I walked in and looked for one--but I quickly got bored with the whole thing, and my attention turned to the people in the store.

There was a bodybuilder looking at sheets. Then I saw him put the sheets down, and briskly walk towards another area. Quite intrigued, I followed this man, as he made his way past the bed and bath sections, and right for the beyond. I followed him right to some sort of a hall with all sort of different locked doors. The hall was empty. The bodybuilder was nowhere to be found. The doors were all locked--but there was a key lying on a table. I picked up the key, and tried it on one door. It didn't work. I tried it on another door, and it didn't work. Undeterred, I tried it on five more doors, and finally, one opened.

I then walked into another room with a table containing a plate of cookies and a pitcher of lemonade. A man then entered the room from another door. He said something to me in French. I told him, "No hablo. No hablo el French-o." He walked away. I then noticed a men's room and ladies' room. I opened the door to the men's room, and there was no men's room at all, but rather, the door took me outside, to some place that didn't look familiar to me. It was some part of Los Angeles that, apparently, I had never encountered before. I didn't recognize any of the sotres, apartment buildings, streets, or street names at all.

Parked on one street was a Ferrari Enzo. I walked up to the car and examined it for a while. It looked just like the $4 million Ferrari Enzo I had heard about a few months earlier in some news article. A man in a hat walked up to me, and he remarked, "You like that car?" I told him that I did. And he said, "It's mine." "Oh," I replied. "I'll bet it's as fast as a race car." "I fucking hope so," he replied. "I paid $3.8 million for that car. It goes from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds. You can't do that in a fucking Toyota."

Then a man in a pink t-shirt came up to me and said, "You like my Ferrari." "Uh," I replied, "Yeah." And that's when the man in the hat told the man in the pink t-shirt, "That's not your Ferrari. It's my Ferrari." "Oh really?" said the other. "Well, lookie here, buddy." He took a document out of his pocket and presented it to the man in the hat. "This is an ownership paper from the Reputable Car Ownership Certification Company of America. And it says that I own that car." The other man then took out his own document and replied, "You lookie here, motherfucker! I have an ownership paper from the Reputable Car Ownership Certification Company of America, and it certifies that I am the sole owner of this Ferrari Enzo." "Tish tosh!" says the other, I have all the documentation I need to prove that that's my car."

Just then, a woman walked up to them and remarked, "Will you two do me a favor and move your argument away from my Enzo." "Your Enzo?!" replied one of the men. "That's my Enzo. If you don't believe, look at this paper from the Reputable Car Ownership Certification Company of America, which certifies that I, the man in the hat, am the sole owner of this Ferrari Enzo, 'sole' meaning 'only,' and 'the man in the hat' meaning 'me.' So kiss my ass, you fucking whore!"

A man in a suit was standing near him, and at that point he said, "Dude--what are you talking about? That Ferrari Enzo belongs to neither you nor the fucking whore you're talking to." I'm not a fucking whore!" replied the woman. "Well, continued the man, "be that as it may, let me just point out that I am the owner of that Ferrari Enzo. And I can prove it. I have a paper here from the Reputable Car Ownership Certification Company of America, and it states that I, the man in the suit, am the sole owner of this Ferrari Enzo. So why don't all of you motherfuckers put that in your pipe and smoke it!"

At that point, I was all like, "Hold the phone here! Wait a second! Everyone in this city seems to have a paper from the Reputable Car Ownership Certification Company of America, indicating that they are the sole owner of that Ferrari Enzo. Do you know what that means?" "Certainly", said the man in the pink t-shirt. "It means that a Toyota is a piece of shit car." "No," I replied. "It means that the Reputable Car Ownership Certification Company of America is a piece of shit company."

"Tish tosh," replied the man in the hat. "It most certainly is not a piece of shit company. After all, The Reputable Car Ownership Certification Company issued a document stating that two plus two equals four. And guess what, motherfucker? Two plus two is in fact four. Which means that the Reputable Car Ownership Certification Company of America is legitimate. If you think it's illegitimate, that means you think that two plus two equals five, and three plus three equals a Quarter Pounder with Cheese." And then I was like, "Bro. I don't think three plus three equals a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. I'm just saying that Reputable Car Ownership Certification Company of America isn't legitimate when it comes to certifying who owns this Ferrari Enzo."

Then someone else said, "Dude--that's not true. The Reputable Car Ownership Certification Company of America knows what's what. After all--two plus two equals four. The Reputable Car Ownership Certification Company of America put out a document stating that that's the case. They're the ones who calculated that in the first place."

"Well," I replied. "Maybe the Reputable Car Ownership Certification Company of America is good at inventing numbers and math and stuff like that. But they don't know jack shit when it comes to certifying the ownership of this here Ferrari Enzo."

That argument was good enough to convince everyone. Well, not exactly. At first they still weren't 100% convinced--but then I beat the shit out of everyone, and they sided with me. And then I walked away from the Ferrari Enzo and all the supposed owners, and I walked into the door that took me back into the room with the lemonade and cookies, and then I walked through the door that took me to the hallway with many door, and then I walked to the beyond section of Bed Bath & Bayond, and then I went to the bed section, And I got a pillow, and I bought it for $22.99.

The following day, I went to the university where I work. And some scientist was all like, "Bro. Check it out. I just finished a study--and it proves that nutrient A is associated with an increased risk of thing A. I did science to prove it. I have it all in this Official Scientific Document."

Moments later, some other scientists dude at the university was all like, "Dude. I just finished this research study. Like, the kind with science and whatever. I used science, and I discovered that nutrient A is associated with a decreased risk of thing A. I have all the proof here, in this Official Scientific Document."

As you might imagine, the first scientist was all like, "What the fuck are you talking about, homes? I have an Official Scientific Document that shows show nutrient A is associated with an increased risk of thing A." And then the second scientist, he said, "Good for you, ese. That don't mean shit thought--because I have an Official Scientific Document that shows how nutrient A is associated with a decreased risk of thing A."

"Well," said the first scientists. "I Googled some stuff, and I found some other scientist who did similar studies, and they all have Official Scientific Documents that back up my study. So why don't you put that in your fucking pipe and smoke it, ese?"

"Well," replied the second scientist. "I did my own Googling--and I found a lot of scientists who did other studies, and they all have Official Scientific Documents that back up my study. So why don't you put that in your fucking pipe and inhale it, vato."

At that point I said, "Hold the phone, amigos."

"Amigos?" replied one  of the scientists. "We're not Hispanic. I'm from North Dakota, and that puto over there is from Wisconsin."

"Nevertheless," I said. "The point is, all you scientific eses and vatos got all your Official Scientific Documents, and they don't jibe with each other at all. So maybe those Official Scientific Documents aren't as significant as you're making them out to be!"

"Not as significant?!" replied one of them. "Listen, homes. The Official Scientific Document Company is the same one that did the whole E equals MC squared thing, and the Periodic Table of Elements, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Are you saying that E doesn't equal MC squared, and that the the only elements are earth, wind, water, and goji berries?"

And I was like, "No, dude. I'm just saying that maybe the Official Scientific Document Company is more legit in some areas than it is in others. So if you have an Official Scientific Document that's about about hydrogen and helium, then it's valid. But if you have an Official Scientific Document that says something about nutrient A and thing A, then you shouldn't put that in your pipe and smoke it."

Thursday, January 19, 2017

David Brinkley - "Most of the time, nothing is happening."

"People have the illusion that all over the world, all the time, all kinds of fantastic things are happening; when in fact, over most of the world, most of the time, nothing is happening." - David Brinkley

The public promotes the illusion that the world is filled with interesting occurrences.

For the most part, there's actually a distinct rarity of exciting, memorable, new elements. One of the most abundant resources of all is tediousness, repetitiveness, and the mundane. We can easily observe how that's the case--and yet, the public keeps on telling us that it isn't.

The public's presentation of what the world is will give you a very inaccurate sense of what the world really is. The public circulates a representation of the world that is extremely misleading in many ways, and not particularly enlightening. On the other hand, our close, meaningful observations of the world, though potentially misleading as well, also have the potential to be extremely enlightening.

News, biographies, biopics,, documentaries, even conversations--these, to a major extent, are actually works of fiction. Even if such works have their basis in facts, there is still a very significant element of fiction that might now be evident from a superficial view. The filtering out of certain elements, the spin put on other elements--these can have an effect that is far more significant than we might think. Ultimately, most non-fiction is far more fictional than we suppose.

Fiction is, for the most part, intended to produce certain effects on people. It's not intended to be especially educational or accurate. A show like Friends is carefully crafted to have certain effects on the viewer. The objective is to make the viewer be entertained, laugh, get used to and like the characters, feel comfortable, come across something that's mostly familiar, track the progression of a plot and its resolution, label people certain ways, become engrossed in a certain flavor or culture of the show, etc. Most "non-fictional" works are surprising similar to Friends in the sense that they also are carefully crafted to produce a certain effect on people.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Learning From the Uneminent

A person should learn from both the eminent and the uneminent. If you only learn from eminent people, your process of learning will be not be nearly as effective as it can otherwise be.

Society's spotlights are generally put on people like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Tom Brady, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, etc. Society presents us with "achievers," it honors them, and it encourages us to follow their path. Such an approach seems reasonable, but it really isn't close to being so.

It doesn't matter how many eminent people you study--you will not learn properly if you don't also learn from the uneminent.

(Analects 9:2)