Success Cannot be Measured

Success is the strength of your heart, the power of your mind and giving of your soul.

This is a great post by Ketan Anjaria who claims that success, like other intangibles in life such as love, can’t be measured:

Real success isn’t measured by how many cars you own, how hot your startup is, or even how amazing you are at yoga.

Real success can’t be measured, just like happiness or love can’t be measured.

If you are trying to apply a metric to your success you have failed to realize one the most beautiful reasons we are on this earth.

Success to me is what you make. What you give to the world. That your thoughts, and actions and time go to building something that works for others.

We could all this reminder every once in a while.

What Defines a Workaholic?

I learned something new today via this short piece in The Atlantic.

Wayne Oates, who published 57 books in his lifetime, coined/invented the word workaholic in 1968. While there still isn’t a standard medical definition of a workaholic, Jordan Weissman digests some papers on the subject:

What, precisely, qualifies someone as a workaholic? There’s still no single accepted medical definition. But psychologists have tried to distinguish people merely devoted to their careers from the true addicts. A seminal 1992 paper on how to measure the condition argued that sufferers work not only compulsively but also with little enjoyment [1]. Newer diagnostic tests attempt to single out those who, among other behaviors, binge and then suffer from withdrawal—just as someone would with, say, a gambling or cocaine habit [2].

Even as the precise outlines of workaholism remain a bit fuzzy, various studies have tried to identify its physical and emotional effects. At the risk of carrying on like a Pfizer ad: research has associated it with sleep problems, weight gain, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression [3]. That’s to say nothing of its toll on family members. Perhaps unsurprisingly, spouses of workaholics tend to report unhappiness with their marriages [4]. Having a workaholic parent is hardly better. A study of college undergraduates found that children of workaholics scored 72 percent higher on measures of depression than children of alcoholics. They also exhibited more-severe levels of “parentification”—a term family therapists use for sons and daughters who, as the paper put it, “are parents to their own parents and sacrifice their own needs … to accommodate and care for the emotional needs and pursuits of parents or another family member” [5].

How many people are true workaholics? One recent estimate suggests that about 10 percent of U.S. adults might qualify [6]; the proportion is as high as 23 percent among lawyers, doctors, and psychologists [7]. Still more people may be inclined to call themselves workaholics, whether or not they actually are: in 1998, 27 percent of Canadians told the country’s General Social Survey that they were workaholics, including 38 percent of those with incomes over $80,000 [8]. (Even among those with no income, 22 percent called themselves workaholics! Presumably some were busy homemakers and students.)


(via Andrew Sullivan)

Men of Science, Men of Faith

In a must-read op-ed piece in The New York Times titled “Welcome to the State of Denial,” Adam Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, laments on the decline of people’s perception of science in our society.

Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact. Narrowly defined, “creationism” was a minor current in American thinking for much of the 20th century. But in the years since I was a student, a well-funded effort has skillfully rebranded that ideology as “creation science” and pushed it into classrooms across the country. Though transparently unscientific, denying evolution has become a litmus test for some conservative politicians, even at the highest levels.

Meanwhile, climate deniers, taking pages from the creationists’ PR playbook, have manufactured doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago. And anti-vaccine campaigners brandish a few long-discredited studies to make unproven claims about links between autism and vaccination.

The list goes on. North Carolina has banned state planners from using climate data in their projections of future sea levels. So many Oregon parents have refused vaccination that the state is revising its school entry policies. And all of this is happening in a culture that is less engaged with science and technology as intellectual pursuits than at any point I can remember.

He goes on to write:

We face many daunting challenges as a society, and they won’t all be solved with more science and math education. But what has been lost is an understanding that science’s open-ended, evidence-based processes — rather than just its results — are essential to meeting those challenges.

My professors’ generation could respond to silliness like creationism with head-scratching bemusement. My students cannot afford that luxury. Instead they must become fierce champions of science in the marketplace of ideas.

As some comments note, the effort to denigrate science is strong and insidious. I agree with this:

The push by religious institutions to have creationism and intelligent design taught alongside evolution in schools as legitimate competing theories, as well as the suppression of data linking man-made atmospheric discharges to climate change by industry are designed to preserve the status quo. Science, as a catalyst of change, has always upended institutions as it ushers in new ideas. We are on the verge of discoveries that may forever change the way we look at the universe and our place in it. It’s clear that those with a vested interest in the institutions of today fear what this means for their futures. Science can make oil and bishops largely irrelevant rather quickly if left unchecked. You bet they’re scared.

If I am not being clear: this perverse social acceptability of the denial of scientific fact must be fought with vigor. I fear for our future generation in America otherwise.

Malcolm Gladwell Responds to Critics of the 10,000-Hour Rule

Malcolm Gladwell came into mainstream prominence with his explanation of the 10,000 hour rule. While Malcolm Gladwell didn’t invent the rule, he instantly popularized it via his best-selling book Outliers. The principle actually dates to a 1993 study (“The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance”; PDF link), though in that paper the authors called it the 10-year rule.

In the latest piece for The New Yorker, Gladwell is back in the spotlight, but this time he is on the defensive. Here, he eviscerates the simplification of the 10,000 hour rule:

No one succeeds at a high level without innate talent, I wrote: “achievement is talent plus preparation.” But the ten-thousand-hour research reminds us that “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.” In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals. Nobody walks into an operating room, straight out of a surgical rotation, and does world-class neurosurgery. And second—and more crucially for the theme of Outliers—the amount of practice necessary for exceptional performance is so extensive that people who end up on top need help. They invariably have access to lucky breaks or privileges or conditions that make all those years of practice possible. As examples, I focussed on the countless hours the Beatles spent playing strip clubs in Hamburg and the privileged, early access Bill Gates and Bill Joy got to computers in the nineteen-seventies. “He has talent by the truckload,” I wrote of Joy. “But that’s not the only consideration. It never is.”

Malcolm Gladwell goes on to reference David Epstein’s new book, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance:

I think that it is also a mistake to assume that the ten-thousand-hour idea applies to every domain. For instance, Epstein uses as his main counterexample the high jumper Donald Thomas, who reached world-class level after no more than a few months of the most rudimentary practice. He then quotes academic papers making similar observations about other sports—like one that showed that people could make the Australian winter Olympic team in skeleton after no more than a few hundred practice runs. Skeleton, in case you are curious, is a sport in which a person pushes a sled as fast as she can along a track, jumps on, and then steers the sled down a hill. Some of the other domains that Epstein says do not fit the ten-thousand-hour model are darts, wrestling, and sprinting. “We’ve tested over ten thousand boys,” Epstein quotes one South African researcher as saying, “and I’ve never seen a boy who was slow become fast.

It appears Gladwell is accepting of the challengers:

It does not invalidate the ten-thousand-hour principle, however, to point out that in instances where there are not a long list of situations and scenarios and possibilities to master—like jumping really high, running as fast as you can in a straight line, or directing a sharp object at a large, round piece of cork—expertise can be attained a whole lot more quickly [than 10,000 hours]

Malcolm Gladwell’s elaboration is important: it’s not just about taking in the time to practice, it’s also the efficacy of practice that matters. Preparation beats innate talent, but there is a limit.


Further reading:

1) “Your Genes Don’t Fit: Why 10,000 Hours of Practice Won’t Make You an Expert”

2) “The Sports Gene and the New Science of Athletic Excellence

The Man with the Longest Postal Route in America

Jim Ed Bull is a letter carrier with the United States Postal Service. He is 72 years old, but that is not his claim to fame. Jim has the longest postal route in America: 187.6 miles (301.8 kilometers) across some of the loneliest territory in the country. Bloomberg reports on his fascinating story:

Into the mailbox goes the weekly Southwest Oklahoma Shopper and a letter from Stockmans Bank, and slam, the door shuts tight. Snap-and-slam wasn’t always the soundtrack of Bull’s workday. He was a high school principal, coach and referee who retired in the late ’90s only to come back to a payroll. Now he’s one of 7.2 million Americans who were 65 and over and employed last year, a 67 percent jump from 10 years before.

They work longer hours and earn more than they did a decade ago. Fifty-eight percent are full-time compared to 52 percent in 2002, and their median weekly pay has gone up to $825 from $502. In the second quarter, government data show, Bull and his peers made $49 more a week than all workers 16 and older.

This was the most surprising part of the piece: USPS doesn’t supply rural drivers with vehicles. So Mr. Bull uses his own truck:

The Postal Service doesn’t supply rural carriers with vehicles, and Bull eschews modifications to his truck or special equipment. Instead, he sits between the two front seats, his body in the middle of the cab. His left hand holds the steering wheel, his left foot operates the gas and brake, and his long right arm inserts the mail.



The Workout Routine of Julien Farel, U.S. Open Hairstylist

The Wall Street Journal reports how Julien Farel, official hairstylist of the U.S. Open, works and keeps in shape. Mr. Farel has an intense schedule, cutting the hair of some 30 to 50 people a day. So he needs a routine to stay in shape:

Mr. Farel is up at 5 a.m. on weekdays so he can run before work. He runs year round, in rain or snow. “I never check the weather because it is only an excuse not to run,” he says. He’ll run between 6 to 9 miles along the West Side Highway. When he stops to do upper body and core exercises, he’ll do three sets of 10 push-ups and three sets of 10 pull-ups. “I found an eating kiosk where I can hang from the roof and do pull-ups,” he says. “If it is raining, I can do my crunches and push-ups under cover there.”

Post-run, he stretches in a hot shower. He is religious about stretching his hands and fingers. “My hands are my job so I need to maintain flexibility and avoid arthritis,” he says. “I need as much dexterity as possible.” He might squeeze a small ball 30 times to strengthen his fingers, sometimes using just four fingers or two.

A lot of what Mr. Farel does I have been able to do over the last six months. For instance, many days I skip lunch entirely (all hail intermittent fasting) and have a thirty or forty minute run at the gym. I also skip breakfast. So this was interesting:

Mr. Farel takes in nearly all of his daily calories at dinner. He dines at restaurants with clients and friends at least three nights a week. “I go all out and get an appetizer, an entree, and dessert,” he says. “I don’t feel guilty at all because I need the calories to carry me on my run the next morning.”

Who knew you needed so much stamina to style hair!

Tuesday’s Challenge: A Card Logic Game

After the success of Tuesday’s afternoon logic puzzles (which were correctly answered in the comments in less than thirty minutes), I promised to post something a bit more challenging. So here we go.


You’ve just flown into Las Vegas and have decided to peruse the casino floor of the MGM Grand, your favorite casino. It’s mid-afternoon, and you haven’t had anything to drink, and the blackjack and poker tables are sparse. You don’t really want to get into those games until later in the evening when all your friends arrive. As you keep walking around the casino floor, you notice a card game which you’ve never encountered before. It’s called Lucky Strike.

Here’s how Lucky Strike works. The dealer has a standard deck of 52 cards (26 red cards, 26 black cards). The cards are shuffled prior to the game and all the cards are placed face down. It costs $1 to play the game.

The rules: the dealer draws one card at a time and shows you the card after each turn. For every red card that’s drawn, you win $1. For every black card you draw, you have to pay the dealer $1. After the dealer draws the card, it goes into the discard pile and isn’t seen/used again. You have the option to quit playing the game after each turn (i.e., when the dealer shows you a new card). Here’s the question: devise an optimal (rational) playing strategy to maximize your payoff in this card game. What is the expected payoff in this game?

Two thoughts to ponder:

1) Since this is a standard deck of 52 cards, and if you choose to see all 52 cards, your ultimate payoff will be $0 (all the $1 winnings from seeing red cards exactly offset the $1 losses you pay to the Dealer from seeing the black cards). But remember, you paid $1 to play the game, so the House has the advantage if you choose to see every single card. So this isn’t an optimal playing strategy.

2) There will be multiple optimal strategies on when to “cash out” in this game. The challenge in this game is to deduce your expected payoff after seeing one card, two cards, three cards, etc. Remember: the order of the cards drawn matters: if you draw five straight red cards, for example, I can guarantee you that it would have been more than optimal to walk away from the table, collect your $5, for a total winnings of $4. So you need to consider the order of how the cards are dealt and when the optimal strategy is to “cash out”.

I will revise this logic puzzle for clarity in case some things aren’t clear. One critical assumption to make is that you are rational. Needless to say, but you are also an expert at calculating probabilities on the fly.

Any questions?


To make things more interesting: if you’re in the Atlanta area and submit a detailed, correct response to this challenge question, I will buy you a drink at an establishment of your choice (ITP only, please).