Looking For Things that “Don’t Make Sense”

I was listening to a podcast episode today (Episode #210: Becoming the Best Version of You of The Tim Ferris Show) in which Tim Ferris interviewed 3 successful people:

  • Chess prodigy, Joshua Waitzkin
  • NY Times best-selling author, Ramit Sethi
  • Creator of the Princeton Review, Adam Robinson

One moment of the interview was deeply fascinating to me, and it was when Adam Robinson was discussing his weekly routines and how he prepares for the start of a new week. Aside from meditating, working out, and doing other activities to keep him mentally and physically sharp, he discussed how he writes a list of what he expects (i.e. his expectations) and looks for things that “don’t make sense.” Here’s the excerpt from Adam Robinson:

..and then I start to write down what I expect to happen. I think the key to, certainly in investing, is to have expectations and wait to be surprised. And one of the key things in investing, and I don’t know how many of you invest, and this is a life truism is to be aware of a voice in your head that says, and you’ll usually squint your eyes or you’ll hear someone say the following words: “It doesn’t make sense..” And that’s always a sign of something really powerful.

So if somebody says to me, “It doesn’t make any sense why gold keeps going lower,” I know that it’s got a lot lower to go because what that person just said in saying that is that this person has a dozen logical reasons why gold ought to be going higher but its going lower and THAT doesn’t make sense. But the world always makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is his model. And this applies in life. In June, about a year ago, Donald Trump announced his candidacy and his first thing was “we’re putting up a wall and they’re paying for it.” And his numbers shot up in the polls and people came saying to me and pundits on TV kept saying, “that doesn’t make any sense” and I thought, “oh my god. wait, but that’s precisely it!” It means it’s going higher. If a stock goes up and there’s no rational reason, that means there’s some “X factor” that you haven’t considered. It makes TOTAL sense now in retrospect, but back then it didn’t. I was  talking to Sam Zell, a great real estate investor, and all he does is read the newspaper and all he’s looking for are things that don’t make sense. So I asked him to give me an example. He says, “OK. I’m reading the newspaper and I’m seeing a Starbucks that just opened up (this is 15 or 20 years ago) in Mongolia. But Mongolia? They drink tea. What’s with that?” He’s so curious about this because it makes no sense, that he takes his private jet, flies to Mongolia, and he discovers that they started mining. This was the beginning of the big China infrastructure build, and the only reason he knew about it was because it didn’t make any sense.

So I’m telling you, that’s the key thing. People stumble upon these ideas and dismiss them because they say, “ehhh it doesn’t make any sense” and I’m telling you that’s where the gold mine is. Things that don’t make sense.

The Abundance Mindset

I read an article this morning that talked about the power of an “abundance mindset” and how most of us are limiting our beliefs and potential by falsely believing that some price is “too much.” Is paying $10,000 for a hotel room too much? Well, it depends on your mindset. Take a read below:


Here’s a follow-up to yesterday’s Quality and Contribution post.

Just to quickly review: The “outrage script” is the mindset that balks at seeing someone spend $10,000 for a hotel room stay. It’s the mindset that would label this an extravagant or wasteful purchase. I believe this mindset is a huge mistake.

If the $10K hotel room seems like an extravagant expense, it means you’re out of alignment with the mindset that’s capable of producing $10K of value very quickly. It’s not the expensive room itself that helps you contribute. What helps you contribute is thinking about what it would take to become the kind of person who could afford to stay in a $10K hotel room without thinking twice about it — because that’s a person who’s capable of generating massive value very efficiently.

At an average level of income in the USA, there’s not much difference between a dime and a penny, right? It’s a small amount either way and not particularly significant. Would you fret over a price difference of 9 cents? Hopefully not. But for some people on this planet, 9 cents is a fair amount, and to pay a dime instead of a penny for something would be regarded as extravagant and wasteful.

Similarly, at higher levels of income (and value creation), $10K is nothing. It’s just a penny. It’s insignificant. It’s pocket change. There’s virtually no difference between a $10K hotel room and a $100 hotel room — the price difference is meaningless, so why not pay that extra “9 cents” for a nicer setup?

The point of the original article is that if you harbor the outrage mindset towards “extravagant” purchases, you’re keeping yourself out of alignment with becoming the kind of person who could generate that much value easily. Hence, you’re severely limiting yourself…. and very unnecessarily.

If you want to look at it from the opposite angle, start applying the outrage script whenever you see people overpaying a few pennies for a purchase: “Are you insane? You could have bought that apple for 5 cents less at the store down the street! You must have money to burn!” They’ll think you’ve lost your mind. Similarly, this is how very wealthy people think about the price difference between a $10,000 vs. a $100 hotel room. If you were to complain that they should stay in a cheaper room to save $9900, they might look at you like you’re nuts.

Fretting over pennies probably seems foolish to you. Similarly, to those who are capable of generating massive value (and being paid accordingly), fretting over $10K is equally foolish. People who can spend $10K on a hotel room know that $10K is not a lot of money.

I believe the outrage script is a big mistake. It holds people back more than they know, and my intention was to try to shed some light on that. If you think any amount of money is “a lot” or “too much” or “extravagant,” you’re resonating with scarcity, not abundance, and you’re preventing yourself from becoming the kind of person who can generate that level of value. Why do this to yourself? Why hold back if you’re capable of contributing so much more?

It was this realization that helped me increase my own income several times over during the past year alone, as I described in Podcast 18, and I didn’t have to work harder or longer to do it. I realized that if I think of some arbitrary amount of money as huge or extravagant, whether it’s $10K or $10 million, then I’m out of alignment with being able to earn that much money, which means I’m out of alignment with being able to generate that much value for others.

Remember that money is social debt. The size of your bank account is a measure of how much society owes you for the value you’ve already contributed. If you think $10K is a large sum, it means you probably aren’t in a position to generate $10K of value for others very easily. If you can dump that unhealthy mindset, you can open yourself to generating far more value in much less time. When I started thinking of $10K as a small sum, I soon found it very easy to earn $10K. Earning $10K is about as difficult as making a sandwich.

Start where you are, and stretch yourself to let go of those limiting beliefs that hold you back. If you think it’s fairly easy to earn $10 or $100, try to open your mind to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, it could be equally easy (maybe even easier) to earn $500 in the same amount of time or less. One you’ve reached that point, push on to $1,000, and keep going from there. When you think that a certain amount of money is “no big whoop,” you’ll find a way to earn that much, and that means you’ll be contributing more value to others. The money you receive as compensation is your receipt.

The History of the Brooklyn Bridge

A few moments ago, I wanted to do some leisure researching on Google and read/learn about successful people, their qualities, mindsets, and how they behaved. So I typed in something along the lines of “how do successful people behave” on Google and came across a Quora post. The question posted was “What are some characteristics of successful people?” The top answer was pretty inspiring, and it was a lesson on the story of how the Brooklyn Bridge was made and the people behind the one-thought-impossible feat. Please take a read:

They don’t give a fuck to unfuckworthy things in life.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was a 60-year-old engineer who conceptualized a bridge connecting New York with Long Island. However, expert architects throughout the world contemplated that this was an impossible feat and told him to forget the idea. It just could not be done. It was not practical. It had never been done before.

But the engineer could not ignore the vision he had in his mind of the bridge. He knew deep in his heart that it could be done. With the headiness of a wild challenge before him, he started on his dream bridge. The project started well, though, two years later, while standing at the edge of a dock at the construction site, his foot was crushed by an arriving ferry. His injured toes were amputated. His condition deteriorated and he died of tetanus soon after.

His son, aged 32 at that time, had recently got involved in this project as a chief engineer. He had designed two large pneumatic caissons (watertight chambers in which construction work is carried out under water) that became the foundations for the two towers. As fate would have it, a year later, fire broke out in one of the caissons. From within the caisson, he directed the efforts to extinguish the flames. Working in the compressed air in the caisson caused him to get decompression sickness, shattering his health and rendering him bed-ridden. He was now unable to physically supervise the construction firsthand.

His wife took it upon herself to learn bridge construction and see it off to finish. She became his nurse, companion, confidant and took over much of the chief engineer’s duties including day-to-day supervision and project management. She studied higher mathematics, the calculations of catenary curves, the strengths of materials, bridge specifications, and the intricacies of cable construction. She lobbied for formal retention of her husband as chief engineer, when his termination seemed inevitable after the tragic incident, and succeeded at it.

He carried on the construction from his apartment with a view of the bridge for next 11 years, aided by his wife, who served as a critical link between the architect husband and engineers on the site.

The bridge was Brooklyn Bridge. The civil engineer was John Roebling. His son was Washington Roebling, whose wife was Emily Roebling.

John, Washington and Emily Roebling

“Nowhere in the history of great undertakings is there anything comparable to Roebling conducting the largest and most difficult engineering project ever “in absentia.”

~ David McCullough, author, The Great Bridge

All three of them harness characteristics of successful people.

Successful people don’t give a fuck to what others think of them.

Had the Roebling Sr. took a rest from believing in his vision and cared about what others are saying, he would never have been written in history. Neither had he created history.

Successful people don’t give a fuck to what is over and can’t be changed.

Had the son spent endless time wailing over the death of his father, he would had got himself immobilized, unable to act. He couldn’t have put in the effort which established him as an authority in a short span of two years, so much so to allow an incapacitated person work from home, in those days.

Successful people don’t give a fuck to fear of unknown.

Had Emily Roebling feared the unknown, she would have never stepped on that construction site. Rather she welcomed the unknown, and learnt so many things at once that one could only hope for. She became a civil engineer, a lobbyist, a nurse, and a project coordinator all at once.

Successful people don’t give a fuck to the conventional practices.

John Roebling designed Brooklyn bridge as a wire rope suspension bridge at a time when they were not common. Had he gone by the conventional practices, he wouldn’t have created the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time it was finished.

Successful people don’t give a fuck to failures.

Had the wife went into emotional trauma over his husband’s paralysis and the fact that he won’t be able to stand on his feet ever, she would have never gathered the courage to finish what he started.

She didn’t keep lamenting. Neither did she waste time hoping the past was otherwise, “Why didn’t you leave the caisson when the fire broke?” She only acted to make her present better- so her husband can retain his job, and she can supervise his dreams all the way to the end.

“Visionaries are specially afraid of a false negative: that customers will reject a flawed MVP that is too small or too limited.

The solution to this dilemma is a commitment to iteration. You have to commit to a locked-in agreement—ahead of time—that no matter what comes of testing the MVP, you will not give up hope. Successful entrepreneurs do not give up at the first sign of trouble, nor do they persevere the plan right into the ground. Instead, they process a unique combination of perseverance and flexibility.

The MVP is just the first step on a journey of learning. Down that road – after many iterations – you may learn that some element of your product or strategy is flawed and decide it is time to make a change, which I call a pivot, to a different method for achieving your vision”

Eric Ries, The Lean Startup