Category Archives: Learning

Charming Helps!

Source: Medium, Jan 2020

Bring The Positive Energy

Here’s the first key to being charming: you have to make other people want to talk to you… and that means that you want to be open and welcoming.

People who are charming are people who make us feel good. They make us feel like they understand us, value us and think we’re awesome. They’re nonjudgmental, empathetic and caring. They’re the sort of people you feel like you could rely on when the chips are down because they’re just that kind of person.

So how does one convey warmth to others?

To start with, you want to smile. A broad, genuine smile that reaches the eyes — the famous Duchene smile — is a way of making yourself instantly seem friendlier and more approachable. It also forces you to feel happier and friendlier in a nice bit of biofeedback; by making yourself feel more friendly, you will come across as friendlier and more likable.

You want to make sure to be as positive as possible. You don’t have to be a wide-eyed optimist, but we are instinctively drawn to people who are happier. Happy people give energy to the room and make others feel good.

Build The Emotional Connections

The next key to being charming is to build the emotional chemistry by finding commonalities with the person you’re talking to. Charming people have the ability to make us feel as though we’ve known them forever — even if we’ve only just met them thirty minutes ago. They bring an easy sense of familiarity and intimacy that we don’t often feel with other people, especially with people we’ve only just met… but it feels so natural that we never think about it.

In fact, one researcher found that it was possible to build an incredibly intense emotional connection — one stronger than even some long-term friendships — in the span of an hour.

The key to building this emotional intensity comes from sharing personal emotional information with one another.

You want to share emotional truths that illustrate some of what makes you who you are. One of the easiest ways to do this is through the Question Game– taking turns asking meaningful questions of one another. Those questions like “what would a perfect day look like to you”? They may sound cheesy… but they’re the ones that elicit the emotional truths and help forge those surprisingly deep and intimate connections that make us feel so close to someone we’ve just met.

So you may want to ask something like “What would you do if you could do anything with no chance of failure?” or even just sharing an embarrassing — but amusing — incident in your life. The key is that you want to allow yourself to be vulnerable; being charming means letting others feel as though they’re getting insight into you that few other people may get.

Just be sure to leaven it with humor. After all…

Funny is Sexy

As I’ve said many times before, there’s a reason why women rank a sense of humor so highly when they’re listing what they find attractive in men. In fact, some researchers believe that there’s a direct correlation between being able to make a woman laugh and her level of sexual or romantic interest.

The most charming people out there have excellent senses of humor. Some are droll and witty, others are self-deprecating, while yet others are brash, even borderline offensive… and we love them for it.

So why is humor so important to charm? It’s the way that it makes people feel.

Charm is all about making the other person feel good in your presence. Laughter releases muscle tension in the body, leaving you feeling relaxed calm while also releasing endorphins in the brain. If you’re able to make a woman laugh, you’re able to make her feel good… and she’s going to associate that feeling with being in your presence.

A good sense of humor is also a reliable indicator of intelligence; after all, most humor — even puns — is intellectual in nature. Even pratfalls and low-brow humor require a strong sense of comedic timing and being able to gauge the social appropriateness of the situation. Plus: being able to understand the proper time and place for different forms of humor is a sign of finely tuned social calibration.

Develop Your Presence

The final part of charm is to utilize your presence. We often talk about people who feel larger than life, or who have us riveted. These people have presence.

We like people who like us… and the ability to make you feel liked is one of the keys of being charming. Charming people have a way of making you feel like the most important person in the world. They give you their full attention and give you the impression that not only are they hanging on your every word, they’re finding absolutely everything you have to say fascinating.

The first and most important way of using presence is simply to give someone your full attention.

The next way that you develop presence is to indicate that you’re actually paying attention. There are many ways of doing this — countless non-verbal signs like nodding your head and “go on, I’m listening” sounds, for example — but the most powerful is to be an active listener.

Making a point to ask questions about the things that she’s telling you, especially if you use her choice of words or phrasing, makes it abundantly clear that not only are you paying attention but that you’re making a point to engage with her, not just passively absorbing her words like a sponge. Even just repeating the last couple of words back in an intrigued, questioning tone can build and signal your interest in what she has to say.

Overcoming Survivorship Bias

Source: FS, Dec 2019

Survivorship bias is a common logical error that distorts our understanding of the world. It happens when we assume that success tells the whole story and when we don’t adequately consider past failures.

Bill Gates, Batuli Lamichhane, and the Beatles are oft-cited examples of people who broke the rules without the expected consequences. We like to focus on people like them—the result of a cognitive shortcut known as survivorship bias.

When we only pay attention to those who survive, we fail to account for base rates and end up misunderstanding how selection processes actually work. The base rate is the probability of a given result we can expect from a sample, expressed as a percentage. If you play roulette, for example, you can be expected to win one out of 38 games, or 2.63%, which is the base rate.

The problem arises when we mistake the winners for the rule and not the exception. People like Gates, Lamichhane, and the Beatles are anomalies at one end of a distribution curve. While there is much to learn from them, it would be a mistake to expect the same results from doing the same things.

Examining the lives of successful entrepreneurs teaches us very little. We would do far better to analyze the causes of failure, then act accordingly. Even better would be learning from both failures and successes.

Consider What You Don’t See

When we read about survivorship bias, we usually come across the archetypical story of Abraham Wald, a statistician studying World War II airplanes. His research group at Columbia University was asked to figure out how to better protect airplanes from damage. The initial approach to the problem was to look at the planes coming back, seeing where they were hit the worst, then reinforcing that area.

However, Wald realized there was a missing, yet valuable, source of evidence: Planes that were hit that did not make it back. Planes that went down, that weren’t surviving, had much better information to provide on areas that were most important to reinforce. Wald’s approach is an example of how to overcome survivorship bias.

Don’t look just at what you can see. Consider all the things that started on the same path but didn’t make it. Try to figure out their story, as there is as much, if not more, to be learned from failure.

Considering survivorship bias when presented with examples of success is difficult. It is not instinctive to pause, reflect, and think through what the base rate odds of success are and whether you’re looking at an outlier or the expected outcome. And yet if you don’t know the real odds, if you don’t know if what you’re looking at is an example of survivorship bias, then you’ve got a blind spot.

What Language will Aliens Use to Communicate with Humans?

Source: Economist, Nov 2019

Reproducible Management Research

Source: Economist, Nov 2019

keywords: Hawthorne, Taylor

Peter Thiel – Wriston Lecture

Source: Manhattan Institute, Nov 2019


Peter argues that our technological imagination has been too modest, too content to fiddle on the margins when what we need are transformational breakthroughs.

These are no substitute for the pathbreaking, world-changing innovation that America needs.

robust innovation relies on a system of free enterprise.

America’s reputation for unimpeded inquiry, which has historically driven our culture of innovation and must do so again if we’re to meet the unique challenges of this century. A society that censors challenging ideas may well be headed on the path to suicide.


a libertarian revolution against all central banks. We’re going to liberate money from government control, and we’re going to this transpolitical technological level to transform things.

one critique that I am sympathetic to is that innovation does not scale well. And that as the tech industry’s gotten bigger or bigger governments, things like that, you’re going to have the innovation more slowly.

what are the kinds of scales we should be working on in 2019?

in the world of 2019, and in some ways, it’s shaped by the rivalry with China. And if we sort of think about a rival that’s also incredibly big, simple bigness is not necessarily the right strategy.

there is, I think, some urgent need to rethink all these different scale questions. Where are we going to be good? Where’s going to be, sort of, much more challenging?

to the extent China has focused our competition, it suggests that we need to think about the scale issue very differently.

What are the kinds of places we can scale in a good way where we can win and do that better in the years and decades ahead? And if I had to sort of give one general gloss on it, I would say that perhaps we have to shift a little bit from quantity, from simply scaling in size, to quality. And that’s sort of the question.

And this is back to innovation, back to intensive growth, not just doing more of the same but shift towards IP protection, shift towards fewer scientists but actually doing real science, fewer good universities, but we understand them to be elite universities. And somehow, a shift to quality over quantity is probably the place of comparative advantage that we have to think through really hard vis-à-vis China.

I think that on the left the distraction machine from asking a question about what to do on the scale of the United States, the distraction machine has been driven by identity politics of one sort or another. And it’s sort of like a subscale. We don’t think of the country as a whole, we think of just subgroups within the country, and I think there’s something insane, self-contradictory about identity politics.

I think from the right, the sort of doctrine I would encourage us to rethink is the doctrine of American exceptionalism, which was, again, sort of a super big scale, but sort of put the US on a scale which simply could not be compared to any other country, any other place.

what happens – say you’re exceptional in all these ways – is you probably end up being exceptionally off in different ways. You end up with subways that cost $3.8 billion a mile. You end up with people who are exceptionally overweight. You end up with people who are exceptionally unselfaware. And I think something like the corrective to exceptionalism is that perhaps in the 2020s the United States needs to settle for greatness.

Q & A

I think that my hopes are that we find a way back to more intensive growth.

I would like to see innovation, not just in some kind of narrow iPhone app but across the board.

one form of this problem of scale that I talked about is if you’re too big a scale, it becomes impossible to actually know the particulars of what is going on. And I think it’s maybe a feature of late modernity that things are so specialized. And we have the cancer researchers talking about how great they are, and the quantum computer people say they’re about to build a quantum computer. And you’ve all these narrower and narrower groups of self-policing experts telling us how great they are.

I think the rivalry with China is what’s going to push us to ask these scale questions anew. We’re not in a great place in a lot of ways, but the country still has a lot of advantages. And we should think really hard what are our advantages, where do we push them, things like that. And I think it is one of the few issues that are essentially bipartisan.


Source:, Nov 2019

Signaling is the act of conveying information about ourselves to people in a way that is costly for us and therefore believable. Without the associated cost of sending a signal, we would not be able to trust the information being sent. For instance, if it’s easy to signal that we are amazing without actually being amazing, then the signal would be comparatively worthless and no one would pay attention to it. Thus, effective signals take up a lot of time and energy, but are essential as a means of communication because the information they convey is trustworthy.

By understanding signaling, we can get better at efficiently conveying the information we want others to pick up on. We can assess if what we’re signaling is really worth the effort. We can learn to better detect what other people are indicating to us—and if it’s genuine or just a show.

Honest and Dishonest Signaling

We use signals because they are costly and therefore more believable than straightforward information. But that doesn’t mean all signals are “true”—they can be categorized as honest or dishonest. An honest signal means the signaler possesses the trait they claim. A dishonest one means they don’t. If a signal is easy to fake, it degrades the value of the trait it advertises. A picture of someone in a fancy car used to signal wealth. Now that we’ve all heard of people hiring expensive cars for a photo op, it just looks sleazy without other signals indicating they own it.


“An effective use of countersignaling requires finesse. Most importantly, the countersignaller must already hold some independent air of mystique.” — Tyler Cowen, Discover Your Inner Economist

A multibillionaire casually admits to eating at McDonald’s for breakfast every day. A powerful CEO shows up at the office in jeans and a hoodie. A middle-class mother sends her child to school in a pajama shirt with unbrushed hair. A New York Times bestselling author says, “Oh, I write books,” when asked what they do at a dinner party. A supermodel posts a candid picture without makeup or filters online.

These are all examples of countersignaling; the act of signaling something by not signaling that thing.

The essence of countersignaling is that those who do it feel no need to signal. The value of countersignaling is that it frees up time, energy and resources. Signaling correctly is an endless, exhausting process where one slip-up can undo previous efforts. Countersignaling is the easier option because it doesn’t involve an active effort. We are most likely to countersignal when a given trait is obvious to any observer.

When we countersignal, we don’t feel insecure or embarrassed about it because we’re in control.

Conspicuous Consumption

“Invention is the mother of necessity.” ― Thorstein Veblen

Conspicuous consumption is the practice of choosing to purchase goods and services for their capacity to signal wealth and thereby excite respect or envy in others, rather than for their practical value.

Economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen debuted the concept in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class. Veblen noticed that the wealthiest people in society were eager to outright waste their money on useless purchases, purely for the status this would signal. Having the capacity to squander time and money was the ultimate signal of wealth during Veblen’s time, following the Industrial Revolution.

The newly created leisure class suddenly had unprecedented wealth and opportunities for demonstrating it. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, conspicuous consumption was purely the domain of the very rich.

Afterward, it was open to almost everyone and became a key part of the way we consume—with the need to signal becoming more important than utility in most of our purchases.

Does Perception Depend upon Action?

Source: Quanta, Nov 2019

Kenneth Harris and Matteo Carandini, neuroscientists at University College London, started with a different goal: to characterize the structure of the spontaneous activity in the visual cortex that occurs even when the rodent gets no visual stimulation. They and other members of their joint team at the university’s Cortexlab recorded from 10,000 neurons at once in mice that were free to act as they wanted — to run, sniff, groom themselves, glance around, move their whiskers, flatten their ears and so on — in the dark.

The researchers found that even though the animals couldn’t see anything, the activity in their visual cortex was both extensive and shockingly multidimensional, meaning that it was encoding a great deal of information.

this discovery reflects the fact that fundamentally, the brain evolved for action — that animals have brains to let them move around, and that “perception isn’t just the external input

Sensory information represents only a small part of what’s needed to truly perceive the environment. “You need to take into account movement, your body relative to the world, in order to figure out what’s actually out there,” Niell said.

“We used to think that the brain analyzed all these things separately and then somehow bound them together,” McCormick said. “Well, we’re starting to learn that the brain does that mixing of multisensory and movement binding [earlier] than we previously imagined.”

It’s necessary to know how the body is moving to contextualize and interpret incoming sensory information.

“Our brains aren’t just thinking in our heads. Our brains are interacting with our bodies and the way that we move through the world,” Niell said. “You think, ‘Oh, I’m just thinking,’ or ‘I’m just seeing.’ You don’t think about the fact that your body is playing a role in that.”

“People tend to think of movements as being separate from cognition — as interfering with cognition, even,” Churchland said. “We think that, given this work, it might be time to consider an alternative point of view, that at least for some subjects, movement is really a part of the cognition.”

researchers agree that the work heralds a shift in how they conduct their experiments on perception — namely, it demonstrates that they need to start paying more attention to behavior, too.