“The Up Side of Down” by Megan McArdle

  1. I tell them what it took me years to learn myself: they should give themselves permission to suck. It is easy to begin once you have accepted that what you produce may not be very good, and that this is normal.
  2. We tend to assume that failure happens because someone, somewhere, did something wrong. In fact, often failure is the result of doing something very right: trying something that you’ve never done before, maybe something that no one’s ever done before.
  3. There is no such thing as a risk-free investment strategy—in finance, or in life.
  4. We should encourage people to fail early and often—by making sure that their failures are learning opportunities, not catastrophes.
  5. Failure is often the best—and sometimes the only—way to learn.
  6. We’re the descendants of failures who fled these shores from their creditors, their failed farms, their disastrous love affairs. If things didn’t work out in New York, we picked up and moved to North Dakota. Somewhere along the way, we built the biggest, richest country in the world. And, I’m going to argue, we did it mostly because we were willing to risk more, and forgive more easily, than most other countries. We lend more freely, and let debtors off the hook; we regulated more lightly, and rely on a hit-and-miss liability system instead. These things are often painted as weaknesses, but in fact they are great strengths. They are the sign of a country more invested in the future than the past.
  7. If we want an educated population, a skilled workforce, an innovative society, then we will have to work just as hard as he did to persuade people that the pain of failure is like a blister in tennis—a sign that you are trying hard enough to improve.
  8. Think about how grown-ups talk to children. “You’re such a good boy!” they’ll say. “Look at you—you’re so smart!” Or “You’re so pretty!” The subtle message we are sending is that good qualities are something you are, not something you learn or develop. (See lots more of this in “Mindset”)
  9. I tell them what it took me years to learn myself: they should give themselves permission to suck. It is easy to begin once you have accepted that what you produce may not be very good, and that this is normal.
  10. Unlike wealthy kids, poor kids are given lots of chances to fail. What they’re not given are chances to recover.
  11. Europe, in short, treat entrepreneurial risk-taking like farming: success is a result of hard work and good planning, so if you fail, it’s because you did something wrong. America, by contrast, treats It like foraging: results are highly uncertain and always driven by luck, so if you fail, it’s a healthy sign that you were trying hard.
  12. It’s easy to believe, especially in hindsight, that you can reason your way to a good prediction.
  13. We think that experts do better than they actually do because we tend to remember their successes, but not their mistakes.
  14. The hallmark of an accident is that while there may be lots of things you could have done differently, there’s absolutely nothing that you should have done differently. Aside from perfect foresight, there is no hard-won knowledge that you wish you could have applied, no error in judgment that can inform your decisions in the future. While someone else should probably learn a much-needed lesson about air-conditioning maintenance (our accidents are often other people’s failures), the only thing you can do is accept that sometimes, things happen.
  15. Moments of crisis can be transformative. They are awful, yes, but they also open up new opportunities that you wouldn’t—or couldn’t—otherwise have taken. In fact, the great mystery is not why crises so often seem to change our lives for the better. It is why we seem to be unable to change them any other way.
  16. Our mind design forces us to see organization where there may be none… Because our minds are designed to see the world as organized, we often detect patterns that are not really present.
  17. When we are dealing with unexpected events, we rarely seek out explanations for the things that normally happen; it is the novel and the strange that demand a cause. So when unexpected disasters do occur, our intuitions push us to see a persona and a plan, rather than some complex impersonal force. We start looking, in short, for someone to blame. (“Talk Like TED” talks much about the importance of novelty on our ability to persuade others and to remember our ideas)
  18. All small children share a common set of intuitions about the world that you will probably recognize in many of the adults you know:
    1. There are no random events or patterns in the world.
    2. Things are caused by intention.
    3. Complexity cannot happen spontaneously but must be a product of someone’s plan to design things for a purpose.
      In other words, we have what cognitive psychologists have dubbed an “agency-detection device.” We look for patterns, but not just for patterns: we look for agency, for intention. And we see it everywhere.
  19. I’d argue that our hyperactive agency detection system is a big part of the reason why we tend to see culprits rather than complexity. We are driven by powerful instincts to look for intention instead of randomness, causation instead of chaos. If nature abhors a vacuum, human reason abhors a coincidence.
  20. Getting the upside of down often means letting go of your instincts, ignoring conventional wisdom, and leaping for something that no one’s ever done before.
  21. It is much easier to do the right thing if you have prepared yourself for failure beforehand. And the best way to prepare yourself can be summed up in four words: don’t count on it.
    If you want to be able to take big risks, and then recover and move on, you cannot have everything riding on any one outcome. Diversify your emotional and financial investments. Hedge against the future. Minimize your fixed obligations. Maximize your net psychic wealth. (This reminds me a lot of “10% Happier” and how many of us rely on the “insecurity of security”)
  22. You should maximize your commitment to the things that matter. Marriage. Kids. Parents and siblings. Friends. Your passions. You can make more of the commitments that count when you have fewer commitments to granite countertops, sunroofs, and cell phone contracts.
    If you absolutely have to have one thing happen or your life will be over and you can never be happy again, you are giving hostages to fate. Fate, you will have notice, is not a very nice negotiator. (Lots of truth here. Look at “Essentialism” and again, distilling the importance out of our lives.)
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