Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Tools for Titans #11 : Which Philosopher to Start with ?

Reid Hoffman is co-founder and executive chairman of Linkedin. After covering 10 sections from Tools of Titans, I am starting to sense that I have an inherent bias for start-up business leaders and against folks who made it doing creative work. Hopefully readers will be mindful of this bias as we walk through the rest of the book together.

a) One philosopher to start with.

I spent more than a decade being a big fan of philosophy and even spent a lot of time attending philosophy cafes. All these years, no one has bothered to answer the question as to where to start if a layperson is interested in Philosophy. Philosophy undergraduates begin with Logic 101 and legal philosophy has a tendency to give a person really horrible nightmares.

As such, Hoffman's suggestion to begin with Ludwig Wittgenstein is highly refreshing.

For the layperson, the first step is to realise that a lot of problems we face in the practical world comes from limitations in the logic of language. For example, flame wars have erupted on Facebook over the concept of "Rule of Law" with many opposition supporters claiming that our government does not follow the rule of law. Studying these arguments, we will realise that the government and opposition groups have a different definition of rule of law. The government adopts a thinner and more formalistic definition which puts a premium on clarity as part of rule of law but the opposition supporters tend to infuse that definition with socio-democratic values adopted from the West.

How can language be used more effectively in work and communications ?

One possibility is to have a common vocabulary. Too many technical arguments between engineers over matters over matters which may be disagreements in jargon use but not in substance.

b) Keep your subconscious busy

Another excellent suggestion from Reid Hoffman is to use your sleeping time to work on an important problem. To do this, simply write down a problem that you need to solve before going to bed. Upon waking up, spend an hour or so trying to tackle the problem while you are alert.

I have experimented with idea on and off for the past 3 years and it is relatively effective. I guess the key is to do it regularly in a disciplined manner.

c) Blended reasons are inferior to a single reason to drive an expensive decision

I can't verify this idea and I think there is enough merit to test this hypothesis out.

Hoffman's belief is that when a decision is backed by many small reasons, it tends to turn out to be bad decision. Conversely, when there is one big reason to do something, the decision generally turns out to be the right one.

This is intuitively attractive to me because even in spouse hunting, men rarely look at the many small things which look good on paper  to decide who to marry ( like education levels, wealth of the family, religion ). Men tend to only go for that one big reason to marry some : They find their future spouses attractive.


  1. point (c): Life is not a GP essay haha! We just need one good solid reason why we need to do it. If we're struggling to find one solid reason, we think that several small ones seems to chalk up the list to outweight the cons, which may be the reason why the decision might be a bad one.

    Agree with this.

  2. I still find difficulty accepting this. It's almost saying that a regression equation with many independent variables will always have a low R squared figure.

    We may be committing this bias that the simplest solution must be the right one.