Some Paradoxes of Modern Life

By David Perell

The Paradox of Reading

The books you read will profoundly change you even though you’ll forget the vast majority of what you read.

The Paradox of Writing

Great writing looks effortless. But because the ideas are so clear, casual readers don’t appreciate how much time it took to refine them.

The Paradox of Creativity

Your work is done when it looks so simple that the consumer thinks they could’ve done it, which means they won’t appreciate how hard you worked.

The Paradox of Decision making

It’s better to choose, commit, and get started instead of waiting for the best possible option, so the correct decisions are actually suboptimal.

The Paradox of Originality

Many of history’s greatest artists have found their voice by copying others. We discover who we are by imitating others and watching our uniqueness emerge over time.

The Paradox of News

By telling us to care about everything, the news leads to apathy instead of action.

The Paradox of Abundance

Information abundance, like all markets of abundance, are bad for the average person but great for a small number of people. My favorite metaphor is health, where obesity rates and the number of people in incredible shape are both rising.

The Paradox of Consensus

Under ancient Jewish law, if a suspect was found guilty by every judge, they were deemed innocent. Too much agreement implied a systemic error in the judicial process. Beware unanimous agreement often leads to bad decisions.

The Paradox of Skill

The more evenly matched opponents are in skill, the more of a role luck plays in determining the final outcome. (h/t @mjmauboussin)

The Paradox of Specificity

In the age of the Internet, when everybody has Google search and social media, differentiation is free marketing. The more specific your goal, the more opportunities you’ll create for yourself. Narrow your focus to expand your horizons.

The Productivity Paradox

We keep inventing things that save us time, but it feels like we have less time than ever before.

The Abilene Paradox

Tell 10 people to get ice cream. If they have to agree on a flavor, they’ll pick chocolate or vanilla every time. Groups of people don’t agree on what’s cool or unique. Since people agree on what’s easy, “consensus” is just another way of saying average.

The Paradox of Strategy

The same things that help you achieve outlier success also increase your chances of outlandish failure. For example, investing with leverage increases your chances of risk and reward.