THIS Headline Matters
By March 26, 2023– Published on
There is a competition in the content business to see who can get content out the fastest. Most publishers publish every day. Many publish several times per day.
The message is always that this headline matters.
Maybe it does.
Probably it doesn’t.
I subscribe to Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and a few others. I appreciate paying a small fee for content not driven by ad revenue.
But even paid subscriptions often have the mandate to get out a major headline each morning and afternoon.
Are there two major headlines every day? Is there even one?
I am not sure the world is that interesting.
It can feel like it in the moment - especially when the headlines are sold well. Hyperbolic language, sensational thumbnails, scary words like “collapse, crash and crisis.
Over the last few weeks, major developments have moved very fast. When big banks go bust overnight, it feels like we need to pay attention to everything.
And there is (potentially) no harm in this. It can be fun. More on that later.
I am writing this from Southeast Asia. I’ve been going to bed when New York wakes up. So by the time I start my day, an entire news cycle has occurred. It is tempting to open my phone within minutes of waking to find out if Credit Suisse still exists… is Wells Fargo next… did the Fed pivot…?
It all seems so important.
But it isn’t.
I don’t need to know in real-time what banks are running, what banks are lending and what banks are shutting their doors. I don’t need to know the share price of anything on a daily basis.
I am not a trader.
If I start watching the news flow every hour on the hour (as I have been through the recent banking crisis, guilty as charged!) I constantly remind myself that watching the 24-hour news cycle is no different from watching sports.
It might be fun, but it is not consequential.
YouTubers will make sensational videos. Partisan media will dunk on their opponents. Doom and gloomers will doom and gloom. But eventually, things will settle. 99% of the “important” headlines will be forgotten, and what matters will rise to the top.
Time is the ultimate determinant of significance.
I subscribe to a few paid newsletter writers. Some publish weekly, some monthly and a few every six weeks or quarterly. None that I subscribe to post daily.
If a story is published in the morning, the likely outcome is that the story will no longer be relevant by the afternoon.
If a story survives the day and makes it into someone's weekly wrap-up report, it has passed a minor stress test.
If it makes it into the monthly review, the case for significance is stronger.
Quarterly, more so. Annually, even more.
This is known as the Lindy Effect.
“The only effective judge of things is time.” - Nassim Taleb
The Lindy principle is simple: The expected relevant lifespan of an idea or thing is best predicted by its historically relevant lifespan.
Or, as Taleb says, “The robustness of an item is proportional to its life!”
You have heard of the book War and Peace. It has been a popular novel for 156 years. Based on the Lindy principle, it is reasonable to believe it will be popular for another 156 years.
Do you remember a book called The Secret? It created a tsunami of attention when published in 2006, but within a few years, it became absent from the conversation.
Most ideas and things turn out like The Secret. The Lindy principal says, “You’ve been popular for 15 minutes? I’ll give you another 15, and that will probably be it for you.”
War and Peace is an interesting example because it operates on many planes. The idea of War and Peace has proven incredibly robust, lasting over 150 years. My copy of War and Peace is far less so, as the spine frays and the pages tear and wilt. It was printed 40 years ago and may last another 40 if I am careful. But the technology of the Book - a hardcover vehicle containing a leafy stack of writings - is roughly 4000 years old. Lindy says that if we are still here 4000 years from today, it is reasonable to think we will still read books.
(Lindy also says that since we existed 4000 years ago, we will likely exist in 4000 years.)
Now obviously, the Lindy predictions are not infallible. Long-term readers know I dispute any absolute truths. But the Lindy principle is valuable when determining what is safe, effective, or worth your time and attention.
The black coffee and clean water on my desk? Lindy approved. Although a debated subject, coffee consumption dates back to at least the 15th century in Yemen. By the 16th century, Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey had picked up the habit.
Steak and asparagus? Lindy approved. Asparagus was on the plate 2000 years ago. Steak, long before that.
Redbull and Cheetos? Not so much. Lindy knows what’s best.
I Call Bullsh*t
Let’s look at exercise. When it comes to fitness, I stick to some core principles:
I start very light.
I don’t miss workouts.
I increase training challenges in very small increments.
When strictly adhered to, these basic tenants virtually guarantee results and progress.
And they are tenants that have stood the test of time for (at least) over two millennia.
2500 years ago, a semi-mythological character named Milo of Croton was thought to be the strongest man to have ever lived.
I say semi-mythological because Milo of Croton certainly existed. There is a written account of his wrestling victories, including a five-time Olympic champion, seven-time Pythian champion, ten-time Isthmian champion, and nine-time Nemean champion.
But over 2500 years, stories evolve. Milo is said to have consumed 20 lbs of meat, 20 lbs of bread and 10 litres of wine daily. His death was equally sensational, being torn apart by wolves, or possibly lions, shortly after ripping a tree in half.
But the story of Milo’s strength is where the lesson is.
It begins in his childhood, on the day a newborn calf was born. Milo decided to pick the calf up and see if he could carry it around the yard. The next day, he did it again. He continued this exercise for four years until he was walking around the yard with a full-grown bull draped over his shoulders.
Milo started very light. He never skipped workouts. He increased his training in very small increments.
Whether training for a triathlon, ultra-marathon or one of my seasonal strength cycles, keeping these tenants as the core framework lets me build upon yesterday’s progress while staying on the right side of injury.
It creates a safe, effective use of my time.
Walk it Off
I stumbled onto a new habit a couple of years ago. At the close of the day, after my kids are in bed, I’ve begun going for a stroll around my neighbourhood. I don’t know what called me to do this. I had no agenda, but the more I did it, the more I craved it. It became a meditative decompression of my day, and I often do some of my best thinking while on these strolls. I gain clarity, perspective and often, some new or novel idea.
Unbeknown to me, this ritual is steeped in thousands of years of tradition. Unfortunately, we lack a word in English to capture the idea of “an evening stroll, often with a companion, to relax and close out the day.” But many cultures have a single word to describe this exact concept.
In Greece, they say volta, meaning a leisurely stroll along the main promenade of your town during the hours of sundown.
In Italian, passeggiata.
In Serbian, Czech and Slovak, corzo.
That language differs, but the concept is the same.
This ancient concept is what triggered the industrial revolution.
While out on his Sabbath Stroll, with its roots in Jerusalem, James Watt came up with the idea for the Watt Steam Engine, which revolutionized steam and coal energy into the cost-effective, scaleable and accessible technology that changed the world.
“I had not walked further than the golf house when the whole thing was arranged in my mind,” Watt later recalled.
Notable that Watts defining contribution came to him on a day he was not working. The Scottish Sabbath is a day of rest, prohibiting Watt from starting on his concept until the next day.
Letters We Never Wrote
How many of my best thoughts have been interrupted by modern distractions? My wife and I recently got away for a weekend without the kids. We stayed at a digital-free resort we had heard fantastic things about. Upon checking in, the phones were put away, and for the duration of the trip, they were banned from the property.
My takeaway from the trip was straightforward. Though I may claim to have control over my “devices” over the next three days, I was shocked at how frequently my hand impulsively reached for my pocket before realizing my phone was not there.
What I gained was the sacred little minutes - while waiting for a coffee, walking to the gym, or - heaven forbid - while doing… nothing.
These minutes became valuable sessions where my thoughts were left to mature, develop and progress further than I normally let them.
Typically, as I have a thought, I am soon struck by the desire to qualify or get clarity on something, so I will pull out my phone with the intention of adding value to the thought.
I have an idea about a project - so I quickly check an email from a contributing party.
I have an idea about an activity - so I quickly check my calendar to plan the timing.
I have an idea about some content - so I do a quick google search to check a fact.
I quickly check this. I quickly check that. The rationale is that this is productive - I need to check this quick thing. Then, while my phone is open, I’ll quickly check Twitter, WhatsApp, Slack, or some irrelevant metric I had no intention of needing. And while I believe I am being productive, what really happens is that I disrupt the thought and stunt its growth.
What could have been will never be.
If James Watt could have checked his phone while walking across Glasgow Green, we would probably have never learned his name.
This is the power of waiting to let things mature: thoughts, foods, technologies - and news. We study the great thinkers of the past, inspired by the works of Benjamin Graham, Adam Smith, Marcus Aurelius, Virginia Woolf, Leo Tolstoy, or Jane Austin - add another 100 names to the list. Names that have stood the test of time with ideas that genuinely challenge and shape us. And by definition of standing the test of time, you will find that none of them had access to real-time information as it happened.
And they did just fine.
“But they didn’t live in our contemporary, fast-paced world!”
I get it. We think we are the first ones to live in a faster world than our ancestors. We believe that to be competitive; we need to stay up to date, minute by minute.
Ok, let's play that game.
Ray Dalio has a net worth of over $19 billion. He built Bridgewater Associates into the largest hedge fund in the world and the fifth most important private company in the US, according to Fortune Magazine.
What does Dalio credit with, in his words, “the single most important reason for whatever success I've had”?
Meditation. “You're peaceful. You're quiet,” he said.
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That’s all for today. Until next week,