Shane Parrish on Mental Models, Travel, Expanding Your Mental Toolbox, and Much More – North Star Podcast, Hosted by David Perell

Check out the North Star Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • You are who you surround yourself with
  • Read widely and expose yourself to ideas from many different domains (AKA add tools to your mental toolbox)
  • Travel broadens your horizons and shows you that other people in the world live differently
  • Read more of what’s stood the test of time
  • “If you can see the problem from every angle, you’re never going to make a bad decision”Shane Parrish
  • Get in the habit of asking yourself: “What would my heroes do in this situation?”
    • By doing so, you’re taking yourself out of the picture and thinking about things from a different, and often more rational, perspective
  • A quote to ponder:
    • “That’s the fundamental flaw that people make today. They read other people’s abstractions and take it as knowledge. But it’s not knowledge because they don’t understand when it works, when it doesn’t work, how to apply it, and how to think about it. They just assume it works, and because they assume it works, they become overconfident. Because they become overconfident, they’re less open to feedback. When the world tells them they’re wrong, they just think the world is wrong. That prevents us from learning and getting better.” – Shane Parrish

Books Mentioned

Intro

Where did Shane’s love of learning come from?

  • He stared surrounding himself with people trying to learn, get better at their craft, and apply different ideas from different disciplines into whatever it is they were doing
    • “When you hang around people like that, you become that”Shane Parrish
  • Up until grade 10, Shane describes himself as a “straight D student”
    • “My peer group changed in grade 10, and I went from straight Ds to straight As”
  • “I’m very careful who I work with. I want to work with people I love… I want to work with business partners where we can engage in win-win relationships.” Shane Parrish

The Power of Farnam Street

  • “I’m constantly surrounded by people who are way smarter than I am in so many different ways. I’m always learning something.” – Shane Parrish
    • How so? – Farnam Street hosts quite a few live events every year
  • Farnam Street also has a Learning Community, a close-knit group of site members

The Man with the Hammer

  • “So many of us specialize these days. We go through high school, and we start getting into the sciences. The byproduct of that is we lose out on the arts. Or we get into the arts and lose out on the sciences.” – Shane Parrish
    • Things work out great as you continue to specialize earlier in your career… until you begin to manage a team
  • As Charlie Munger has said: “To every man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”
    • When you have one skillset (a tool), you tend to always gravitate towards using it, and by doing so, asserting your authority
      • This can spiral into trust issues, cultural problems, etc.
  • BUT: “If you can read widely through philosophy, literature, and science, and understand different ideas, you add different tools to your mental toolbox”Shane Parrish
    • Then, as you go about life, you’re able to start applying the right tool for each scenario

How do you go about exposing yourself to different domains?

  • Shane began his career hyper-specialized in math, science, and computer science
    • Over the past 10 years, he’s focused on building up a knowledge base outside these areas by reading widely and surrounding himself with smart people with different domains of expertise
  • What else has Shane done?
    • He hired a university professor a while back to come teach him history at his house
    • He frequently reaches out to others to take them out to lunch so he can pick their brain
  • “There’s so much knowledge out there, and I’m a little promiscuous in how I go about acquiring it” Shane Parrish

Travel & Reading

  • Shane just got back from a month-long trip to Europe with his kids, filled with sight-seeing, museum visits, and tons of learning about European history
    • Shane and his kids went through Everything You Need to Know About World History before leaving on the trip (Shane says it’s a relatively easy read and designed well for kids)
      • “You don’t have to sit down and read things that are boring; you read to enrich your experiences” Shane Parrish
      • “If you’re going to see something when you’re traveling, it becomes better with context. And one of the best ways to get context is through reading.” – Shane Parrish
  • “Travel broadens your horizons and shows you that there are other people in the world who live differently”Shane Parrish
    • Because of this, every year, Shane & kids live in a different city for ~ 1 month
      • “I want to do the things the people do, try to eat the way they eat, and have my kids experience different ways of living. It’s amazing what they come back noticing.”
    • More than ever, people are living in closed bubbles and not seeing the world for what it is
      • Go see the world – it’ll open your eyes. What you see is not all there is.

The Art of Living

  • “There is no recipe… There is no one way to live a life. There’s a way that works for you that’s optimal, but it changes all the time.” – Shane Parrish
    • What you value very likely changes with your life circumstances
  • Always be pondering:
    • “What does it mean to live a meaningful life?”
    • “What am I going to regret if I don’t do it?”
  • On your death bed: “I don’t think you’ll end up saying, ‘I wish I sent more emails,’ or ‘I wish I hadn’t gone on that field trip with my kids” – Shane Parrish

Read More of What’s Stood the Test of Time

  • Let time be your filter when it comes to choosing what to read
  • On older books:
    • “There’s a reason those books are still around; they speak to fundamental truths. They may not speak it in the language we’re accustomed to, and part of the work you have to do as a reader is translating it into something of today. But that work you’re doing when you’re translating from old to new, and applying it to your life, is part of how we reflect. It’s part of the learning process.” – Shane Parrish

The Biggest Barrier to Effective Learning

  • “That’s the fundamental flaw that people make today. They read other people’s abstractions and take it as knowledge. But it’s not knowledge because they don’t understand when it works, when it doesn’t work, how to apply it, and how to think about it. They just assume it works, and because they assume it works, they become overconfident. Because they become overconfident, they’re less open to feedback. When the world tells them they’re wrong, they just think the world is wrong. That prevents us from learning and getting better.”Shane Parrish

How does Shane find time to read?

  • It’s not rocket science – you make time for what’s important

Mental Models

  • What are they? 
    • Mental representations, or ways of thinking, about the world that stand the test of time
  • What purpose do they serve?
    • They serve as thinking tools, helping remove blind spots and examine problems from different angles

Mental Model | The Power of Incentives

  • Similar to second-order thinking, no matter what situation you’re facing, incentives will always play a role
    • You might ask yourself: “If I do this, what is the most likely response? What are all of the implications of this? What are the incentives of the people involved in the situation?”
  • When you know the incentives of everyone involved, you can try to align them – this creates win-win situations

Mental Model | The Map is Not the Territory

  • Check out Shane’s blog post on the topic
  • A few examples:
    • A balance sheet is the map of a business, but it doesn’t fully represent the company
    • An employee satisfaction survey (a map) is only a glimpse of the entire terrain (everything going on within the company)
  • “If you become exclusive to one map, you’re less likely to identify when the terrain changes” Shane Parrish
  • “There’s always an imperfect relationship between reality and the models we use to represent and understand them, but it’s necessary in order to simplify things because we can’t deal with the world in all of its complexity” – Shane Parrish

Focus on What DOESN’T Change

  • No matter what situation you’re facing in life, the following are all necessary/useful:
    • Critical thinking
    • Focus
    • Adaptability 
    • Making good decisions
    • The ability to quickly learn new topics

The Power of Fiction

  • “I’m reading fiction not just for entertainment, but I’m reading fiction to get something out of it, to simulate things in an alternative universe.” – Shane Parrish
    • “When you’re reading fiction, you can come up with this mental repository that allows you to handle different situations… The more of those of library nuggets we can add to our brain, the more we can understand things outside of a certain domain. The more we can understand things outside of a domain, the more we can apply them to different situations.”
  • One fiction book Shane particularly enjoyed: To Kill a Mockingbird

What would my heroes do in this situation?

  • Get in the habit of asking yourself this question
    • By doing so, you’re taking yourself out of the picture and thinking about things from a different, and often more rational, perspective

See the Blind Spots

  • “A lot of people stop reading if they don’t agree with something, I think part of being an adult is being able to read something you don’t agree with, think critically about it, and put yourself in different perspectives that allow you to see the problem from different angles.” – Shane Parrish
  • “If you can see the problem from every angle, you’re never going to make a bad decision”
    • The more blind spots you have, the more likely you are to make bad decisions
  • To challenge your own thinking, get in the habit of asking yourself: “What would cause me to change my mind on this?”

Outcome Over Ego

  • This is a principle Shane lives by (and you should do)
    • “It’s been a life-changing attitude” – Shane Parrish

Additional Notes

  • David highly recommends Shane’s interview with Rory Sutherland
  • Shane tries to schedule all his busy work for the afternoon, and creative work for solving the hard problems
  • Shane really enjoyed Ray Dalio’s book, Principles
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