The Smarter Brain
Get Smarter. Think Better. Live Better.

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

— Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood


Worth reading

1

Jeff Bezos’ Guide to Life

5 life lessons from Jeff Bezos during his interview at an invite-only getaway summit:

1. Develop your mental toughness.“Each time you have a set back, you’re using resilience and resourcefulness, and inventing your way out of a box.”

2. Make decisions that minimize regret. “How he knew to leave his job and start Amazon: Jeff had a been working in finance software engineering on Wall Street. But in 1994, he told his boss he wanted to start an Internet book store. His boss told him it was a pretty good idea but that it was “a better idea for someone who didn’t have a good job.” Jeff took a few days, and decided “the best way to think about it was to project my life forward to age 80” and make the decision that “minimized my regrets…”(…)“Then it was immediately obvious” that he should leave to start Amazon. “If it failed, I would be very proud when I was 80 that I tried.”

3. Avoid multitasking. “I don’t like to multi-task. If I’m reading my email I want to be reading my email…I multi-task serially.”(The science is clear on this point. )

4. Practice childlike curiosity. “Because the world is so complicated, you have to be a “domain expert” to find solutions to problems. “But the danger is that once you’re a domain expert, you can be trapped by that knowledge.” You have to approach things with childlike curiosity. Inventors are the experts with beginners minds.”

5. Choose your life story. “We all get to choose our life stories. It’s our choices that define us, not our gifts…You either choose a life of “ease and comfort”, or of “service and adventure”, and when you’re 80, you’ll be more proud of the latter.”

Josh Constine, Tech Crunch ()

2

How Busyness Leads to Bad Decisions

“You churn through the day.. feeling busy, purposeful and a little breathless. Yet as the end of the traditional workday.. you realise with a sinking feeling that you haven’t even begun the big project you meant to tackle that day.”At the end of each day, you beat your chest and resolve that ‘Tomorrow will be different,’ but the vicious cycle repeats itself. Why?

“When we’re stressed and feeling pressed for time…our attention and cognitive bandwidth narrow as if we’re in a tunnel.” And this tunnel often leads to wasted time on “low-value tasks,”instead of “the big project or the long-range strategic thinking.”

The main culprit of busyness is email: “the perfect addictive “attention slot machine”.” Because “[o]ur brains are wired for novelty, so we actually love being interrupted with every random ping and ding of a new message.”But there’s hope. We can escape the tunnel of busyness by “thinking about our schedules as less like a pantry that we cram anything…into, and more like an art gallery where we…decide what is most important and how to arrange it so that everything fits.”

Brigid Schulte, BBC ()

3

Idea Generation

Sam Altman (Investor and CEO of OpenAI) on generating ideas to build a highly successful startup. “It turns out that good founders have lots of ideas about everything.”So how do you get good at idea generation?

6 ways to generate great ideas:

1. Surround yourself with people who have a “good feel for the future.”These individuals “will entertain improbable plans, are optimistic, are smart in a creative way, and…tend to think without the constraints most people have, not have a lot of filters, and not care too much what other people think.” They also won’t “make you feel stupid for mentioning a bad idea, and…never feel stupid for doing so themselves.”

2. “Stay away from people who are world-weary and belittle your ambitions. Unfortunately, this is most of the world. But they hold on to the past, and you want to live in the future.”

3. Don’t be afraid to look stupid. “The best ideas are fragile; most people don’t even start talking about them at all because they sound silly.”

4. “Think about the most important tectonic shifts happening right now. How is the world changing in fundamental ways? Can you identify a leading edge of change and an opportunity that it unlocks?”

5. “Get good at differentiating between real trends and fake trends. A key differentiator is if the new platform is used a lot by a small number of people, or used a little by a lot of people.”

6. Pursue ideas that you’re well-suited for. Because “founder/company fit is as important as product/market fit.”

Sam Altman ()

4

Rediscovering the Lost Power of Reading Aloud

In the ancient world, “[t]o read at all was to read out loud.”In fact, “Silent reading of the sort we practice with our books and laptops and cellphones was once considered outlandish, a mark of eccentricity.”

We often forget that a large part of human history was passed down through oral tradition. “Long before Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press, the principal storage facility for history, poetry, and folktales was the human head…And the chief means of transmitting that cultural wealth, from generation to generation, was the human voice.” Unfortunately, we’ve lost the art of oral storytelling. “With schools having largely withdrawn from the practice of making students memorize poetry, few of us today have anything approaching the interior resources of a rhapsode.”But we can rediscover this art by reminding ourselves “that in reading aloud, we are taking part in one of the oldest and grandest traditions of humankind.”

Meghan Cox Gurdon, Literary Hub ()

5

How Your Brain Develops Reading Skills

Reading is second nature to most of us. But behind the scenes, your brain works hard to translate complex symbols into words and meaning. To read on a basic level, your brain needs to recognize letters and visual symbols—regardless of their size, case, font, and position—and translate them into spoken language. The region of the brain responsible for this translation is the ventral occipito-temporal (vOT) cortex.

A study by Taylor and colleagues, combined neuroimaging with artificial language learning to uncover how the vOT supports reading ability. During the study, the researchers trained twenty-four adults to read two sets of 24 new words. Each word was written in two different alphabets of specially created symbols. The results showed that your brain translates visual inputs to meaning by shifting from the posterior to the anterior vOT. This shift occurs automatically in the brain of a skilled reader.

Key takeaway: Your brain isn’t designed to read. High-level reading skills are developed through rigorous practice.

— Taylor et al. . PNAS (2019).


Worth listening

How to Design Conversations That Matters

How to apply design thinking to lead, influence, and connect better through conversation. “In group dialogues…we jump to conclusions, we tend to go from a question to an answer as quickly as possible…because…we don’t like to sit with silence…if we have regrets, that’s an inner part of ourselves saying I’m not happy about that.”

The Art of Manliness ()


Worth watching

Groups Search for Consensus, Individuals Search for Truth

“What society wants for you is not what’s always good for you…Guilt is society training you to be your own warden…It programs you to beat yourself up when you transgress one of its truths.”

— Naval, YouTube ()


Today I learned: 96% of the world’s languages are spoken by 3% of the world’s people. ()

Food for thought: Losers wait to feel inspired before taking action. Winners live by a different motto: Do what you hate to do, but do it like you love it.

 

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