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Favourite Quotes #2016

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What makes a museum great is the stuff that’s not on the walls. Someone says no. A curator is involved, making conscious decisions about what should stay and what should go. There’s an editing process. There’s a lot more stuff off the walls than on the walls. The best is a sub-sub-subset of all the possibilities.

— Jason Fried & DHH in Rework

On Business and Economics

Mediocrity always outnumbers talent.

— Peter Bernstein in Against the Gods

Having two thousand ducats isn’t twice as good as having one thousand; it is less than twice as good, because a thousand ducats is worth less to a person who already has a thousand ducats than it is to the person who has none.

— Jordan Ellenberg in How Not to Be Wrong

John Maynard Keynes, once said that successful investing is anticipating the anticipations of others. For a share of stock to be sold at, say, $60, the buyer must believe he can sell it later for $70 to someone who believes he can sell it for $80 to someone who believes he can sell it for $90 to someone who believes he can sell it for $100 to someone else. In this way, the value of a stock isn’t what people think it’s worth but what people think people think it’s worth. In fact, even that’s not going far enough.

— Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths in Algorithms to Live By

A survey by the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa found that firms that shelled out for CSR did better than others during downturns, because, the authors speculated, their clients were more loyal and less likely to abandon them when money was tight. But others argue that the causation may work the other way: firms that are stable and successful are more likely than wobbly ones to have spare cash to lavish on nonessential projects.

— Tom Wainwright in Narconomics

Constraints are advantages in disguise.

— Jason Fried & DHH in Rework

Lots of things get better as they get shorter. Directors cut good scenes to make a great movie. Musicians drop good tracks to make a great album. Writers eliminate good pages to make a great book.

— Jason Fried & DHH in Rework

On Life and Living

Nobody is quite as smart as they think they are. Not even you.

— A. Lee Martinez in Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain

If people were to tell other people everything about themselves, we’d live in a dull world.

— Tom McCarthy in Satin Island

Meaning is a basic human need.

— Philip Tetlock in Superforecasting

If you were applying for your dream job, you would never sign a contract that said, ‘I not only promise never to leave this job, but I promise to be equally enthusiastic about working here for the rest of my life, no matter how this job evolves and no matter how much I change as a person.’ Yet this is more or less what most of us do when we get married.

— Danielle & Astro Teller in Sacred Cows: The Truth About Divorce and Marriage

The truth is that people usually live up to your expectations.

— Laszlo Bock in Work Rules!

In the not-throwing-sand-and-not-shoving-people competition, I get the participant ribbon. And even though I know there aren’t any special requirements for earning the participant ribbon aside from the participation itself, I still feel sort of proud of it, because IT’S HARD not pushing people and not throwing sand at them.

— Allie Brosh in Hyperbole and a Half

Too much ketchup can ruin the fries.

— Jason Fried & DHH in Rework

The simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions.

— Laszlo Bock in Work Rules!

Life is what you do but also what you miss.

— Rich Cohen in The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones

On Philosophy

Seizing a day and seizing a lifetime are two entirely different endeavors.

— Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths in Algorithms to Live By

There is nothing new under the sun.

— Philip Tetlock in Superforecasting

Without a diversity of opinion, the discovery of truth is impossible.

— Andrea Wulf in The Invention of Nature

Introspection can only capture a tiny fraction of the complex processes whirling inside your head.

— Philip Tetlock in Superforecasting

The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?

— Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

On Politics and Religion

It is a well-known fact that people who want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.

— Douglas Adams in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Governmental deviousness is usually better explained by incompetence, vanity and the need to protect one’s job at all costs.

— Jasper Fforde in The Fourth Bear

Voters aren’t stupid or delusional. Each voter has a perfectly rational, coherent political stance. But in the aggregate, their position is nonsensical.

— Jordan Ellenberg in How Not to Be Wrong

Maybe individual people seem irrational because they aren’t really individuals! Each one of us is a little nation-state, doing our best to settle disputes and broker compromises between the squabbling voices that drive us.

— Jordan Ellenberg in How Not to Be Wrong

Undecided voters, by and large, aren’t undecided because they’re carefully weighing the merits of each candidate, unprejudiced by political dogma. They’re undecided because they’re barely paying attention.

— Jordan Ellenberg in How Not to Be Wrong

If you ignore government, a lot of governing will get done without you.

— Steve Case in The Third Wave

Religion has run out of justifications. Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important.

— Christopher Hitchens in God Is Not Great

If somebody threatens to kill because a cartoon offends them, the only proper response is to keep drawing that cartoon until such a time as the people who do the complaining stop.

— Douglas Murray in Islamophilia

On Society

The representation of events in the media does not track their frequency in the world.

— Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths in Algorithms to Live By

You can make a fortune in this world far more efficiently by using the law to your advantage than by breaking it.

— Jasper Fforde in The Big Over Easy

Obviously. It was designed to make you want it. If people had turned out not to want it very much, the makers would have redesigned it and redesigned it until they did. The world is now full of things like this, which is, of course, why everybody is in such a permanent state of want.

— Douglas Adams in The Salmon of Doubt

Societies in which even your deepest beliefs and feelings can be questioned and trodden upon are the only societies worth living in.

— Douglas Murray in Islamophilia

A frightened nation is a nation that buys evening papers.

— Jonas Jonasson in Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All

Music is still being made, of course. The best bands are as proficient as ever. The best songs still rock. But the underlying belief is gone. No one thinks music will change the world, or wants it to. It’s like a lot of religion. People fill the churches, though less out of fear and trembling than out of habit. We do it because our parents did it. We do it because it’s what we’ve always done.

— Rich Cohen in The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones

Forget universities! They’re irrelevant. They’ve become businesses and not even good ones.

— Tom McCarthy in Satin Island

It’s odd to spend time in the company of somebody with power—I mean real, executive power: to hang out with a powerful person. You would imagine they exude this power at every turn, with each one of their gestures; that their very bodies sweat the stuff, wafting its odour at you through expensive clothes. But in fact, the thing most noticeable about this Minister was her lack of powerful aura. She seemed very normal. She wasn’t physically striking in any way: neither particularly tall nor particularly short; neither fat nor thin; neither attractive nor ugly.

— Tom McCarthy in Satin Island

On Statistics

If we want to predict how long something will last, and have no other knowledge about it whatsoever, the best guess we can make is that it will continue just as long as it’s gone on so far.

— Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths in Algorithms to Live By

If the forecast said there was a 70% chance of rain and it rains, people think the forecast was right; if it doesn’t rain, they think it was wrong.

— Philip Tetlock in Superforecasting

There are billions of planets where there is no life, but there’s no one on those planets with brains to notice. It’s like if everyone in the world was tossing coins eventually someone would get 5,698 heads in a row and they would think they were very special. But they wouldn’t be because there would be millions of people who didn’t get 5,698 heads.

— Mark Haddon in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

On Work and Talent

Don’t be afraid to show your flaws. Imperfections are real and people respond to real. It’s why we like real flowers that wilt, not perfect plastic ones that never change.

— Jason Fried & DHH in Rework

Deep down, every human being wants to find meaning in his or her work.

— Laszlo Bock in Work Rules!

For those who are learning and growing most quickly and those performing at the highest level, the one way to make sure your pay is in line with the value you create is to leave the monopolistic internal market and enter the free market. That is, look for a new job, negotiate based on what you are truly worth, then leave. And that’s exactly what you see in the labor market.

— Laszlo Bock in Work Rules!

Individual performance scales linearly. Teaching scales geometrically.

— Laszlo Bock in Work Rules!

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

— Philip Tetlock in Superforecasting

Each time a new piece of work comes in, divide its importance by the amount of time it will take to complete. If that figure is higher than for the task you’re currently doing, switch to the new one; otherwise stick with the current task.

— Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths in Algorithms to Live By

Every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.

— Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths in Algorithms to Live By

Workaholics miss the point. They try to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at them. They try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force. This results in inelegant solutions.

— Jason Fried & DHH in Rework

The biggest mistake leaders make is that they manage too much.

— Laszlo Bock in Work Rules!

Other

By law, no matter the substrate used to make it—grains or grapes or the classic potato—vodka is supposed to be nothing but water and ethanol; distillers can vary the ratio, but that’s it. In other words, the standard bottle of vodka is just 750 milliliters of H2O and C2H6O.

— Adam Rogers in Proof: The Science of Booze

In Closing

Try to be pleasant to one another, get plenty of fresh air, read a good book now and then, depose your government when it suspends the free press, try to use the mechanism of the state to adjudicate fairly, and employ diplomatic means wherever possible to avoid armed conflict.

— Jasper Fforde in The Big Over Easy

You should never pass up an opportunity to be kind. You should never not thank someone. You should never not say something nice when you think it.

— Christopher Moore in Secondhand Souls