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Eric Barker

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Everyone remembers their class valedictorian: perfect grades, perfect test scores and in some cases, perfect hair. They probably went on to professional fame and enormous wealth, right? Not necessarily. In his new book "Barking Up the Wrong Tree," Eric Barker explores the maxims we use to discuss success. He finds that, just as nice guys don't always finish last, valedictorians rarely become stand-out successes. "[Valedictorians] do well," Barker told CNBC, "but they don't actually become billionaires or the people who change the world."

His assessments are based on research by Karen Arnold, a professor at Boston College and the author of "Lives of Promise: What Becomes of High School Valedictorians." She tracked 81 high school valedictorians and salutatorians after graduation.

Barker writes:

There was little debate that high school success predicted college success. Nearly 90 percent are now in professional careers with 40 percent in the highest tier jobs. They are reliable, consistent and well-adjusted, and by all measures the majority have good lives. But how many of these number-one high school performers go on to change the world, run the world or impress the world? The answer seems to be clear: zero.

It seems that the traits that set one up for exceptional success in high school and college - "self-discipline, conscientiousness and the ability to comply with rules" - are not the same traits that lead individuals to start disruptive companies or make shocking breakthroughs. "Valedictorians aren't likely to be the future's visionaries," says Arnold. "They typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up." Many valedictorians themselves believe that they weren't the smartest student in their class but rather simply the hardest worker. Others confessed a strong preference for giving their teachers what they seemed to want, as opposed to truly absorbing the material.

In fact, Arnold's research demonstrates that students who truly enjoy learning the most often struggle in school, where students must balance attention given to subjects about which they're truly passionate with the demands of their other coursework. While intellectual students struggle with this tension, valedictorians excel. But, after graduation, that drive only gets them so far.

Meanwhile, lots of mediocre students thrive outside a scholastic environment. A survey of over 700 American millionaires found that their average college GPA was 2.9. "College grades," Barker writes, "aren't any more predictive of subsequent life success than rolling dice." "School has very clear rules," Barker says, "but life doesn't. Life is messy."

School has clear rules. Life often doesn't. When there's no clear path to follow, school high achievers are often lost.

School rewards generalists who can repeat what they've been told. Many bright people are passionate about one small area, and want to study that in depth.

There are two types of leader. The first kind rise up through the ranks, get promoted by following the rules and not stepping out of line. Neville Chamberlain for example. These are 'filtered' by the system. The second kind come in through the window without waiting for someone to promote them. They arrive when crises require more than conventional thinking. They are 'unfiltered', like Winston Churchill.

Because they don't play by the rules, they transform the organiztion. Often this is a negative, since the rules are usually there for a purpose. But a minority have a positive influence, clearing out a lotof out-moded ways of behaving.

"Hopeful monsters" originally a concept put forward by Richard Goldschmidt to challenge orthodox idea that evo worked by slow modifications. Suggested that evo constantly throws up 'sports', most of whom are less than fit and so don't pass on genes, but some of which prosper, and change the species for the better.

Someone born with legs too short and arms too long, hands and feet too big is poorly adapted to land living. But for Michael Phelps, the recipe translates into multiple Olympic golds.

Poor people are crazy but rich people are just eccentric.

At work, it's more impt to manage the impression your boss has of you than to do good work (especially if you can't get your boss to notice your accomplishments).

If someone is too nice, they're seen as weak. Whereas someone who breaks the rules is seen as more powerful.

Pirates cultivated an air of barbarity and violence, but IRL they ran co-ops where everyone got treated well, not out of altruism, but bc it was good business. Both RN and merchant ships run by arbitrary despots, and in response, pirates ran egalitrian democracies.

Most of our dealings are based on reputations. An early edge gained by cheating is a poor long-term strategy.

Game where two groups told to split a pile of oranges. That's all the control group is told. Second group is told to talk to the other side before doing anything. That's when they find that one side only needs the orange skins and the other only needs the flesh. So if talk to each other, get win-win. If immediately resort to fighting, both groups do worse.

The people we surround ourselves with, determine who we become. Works both ways - if in a group where you see someone get away with cheating, you'll likely become a cheat.

Grit comes from stories. The US Navy needed more SEALS, but found it wasn't gym rats or he-men that lasted the arduous training course, it was insurance salesmen. The optimists, who could tell themselves stories about themselves to keep going, even in face of continual failure.

'Learned helplessness' expt shocking dogs (they could escape shocks by hopping over a low wall, but gave up bc they'd been conditioned to believe there was no escape). When tried same expt on people, one in three did not become helpless, they kept trying to figure out why the shocks were happening and how they could get away.

It all comes down to the stories we tell ourselves. Can either say "I've never been any good at this" or "I just need to keep working at it". pessimists tell ts that bad events will go on forever ("I'll nrver get this done") and are their own fault ("I'm terrible at this"). Optimists tell ts it's temporary and not their fault.

It's all about optimism/pessimism. And depression is just pessimism writ large.

People with mental delusions like Cotards or Alzheimers confabulate. They completely reconstruct reality to logically fill in the gaps. When challenged, they never say "I don't know why I believe this".

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Dan Ariely used to lecture on cognitive biases, but frequently got the response "Yeah I know lots of other people who do that, but I don't." So then he prefaced his lectures with demos of optical illusions - things like two lines that look loke different lengths but when you measure them they're the same - to demonstrate that you can't always trust your brain.

Our brains are wired to make sense of things. We need to think the world makes sense and that we have control. The brain doesn't like randomness.

And meaning comes from stories. Christians have their parables; today, movies fill that space - ("sacred dramas for a secular society").

Lawyers 3.6 times more likely to be depressed than other occupations, mainly bc their job is to anticipate everything that can go wrong. ("Law is the only career I know that has a sub-profession dedicated to helping people get out.")

Resume values and eulogy values. Resume values are the things that bring material success, like money and promotions. Eulogy values are about character - are you kind, courageous, honest.

Fate is what we cannot avoid. But destiny is what we strive for and make true.

Therapists help people to rewrite their stories - go from "I can't do this" to "I just need to learn the ropes." Training Navy Seals - found that teaching them mental tricks, esp positive self-talk improved pass rates by ten percent.

Hospital wanted to encourage hand-washing so hooked up an iPod to play a very short tune (from a video game reward for player scoring) every time they did.

More books on Health

White Nanny Goats Fly. Acronym for what all good games have: they are Winnable, they have Novel challenges and Goals, and they provide Feedback.

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Thoreau: the price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it."

When we choose an extra hour in the office, we're choosing one less hour with our kids.

Peter Drucker: get rid of everything you're doing that isn't moving the needle to get you to your goals.

Yiddish word sitzfleisch, buttocks, as in sit down and get working.

Lucky people basically just try more stuff.

The spaghetti problem. Groups ranging from kindergarteners to MBA students and engineers, given 20 strands dry spaghetti, 1 meter of tape, 1 piece of string and amarshmallow, and told to build the tallest structure they could that would support a marshmallow. And it was always the 6 yos who won, simply bc they tried far more things.

Batman cannot lose a fight, bche would be killed. But research (someone studied this) shows that the maximum time for an MMa fighter, a boxer, or an NFL running back to stay uninjured and victorious, was three years. So after your decade of traing you're not going to have long to clean up Gotham.

Problem that too many of us think we have to be perfect and never lose.

You wouldn't land your dream job and then stop working at it, but people often get married, and then stop working at the relationship bc "it was meant to be". Long-term, arranged marriages ork out happier. At start, love marriages much happier - scoring 71 out of 100 v 58 for arranged marriage. But a decade in, arranged marriages are up to 68 while love marriages have dropped to 40. The difference is that arranged marriages don't start out with the 'soulmates' shiat and then get progressively more disappointed as the reality shows otherwise. They start with attitude "I'm handcuffed to this person for life, so I better figure out how to get along with them".

Turns out dreaming is bad. Fantasizing gives us the reward before we've done the work, and saps the energy we need to realize it. You have to take the next step - "What is getting in my way of achieving that dream?" and "What am I going to do to overcome those obstacles?" (ie, A Plan) Or, WOOP: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.

Freakonomics found correlation: the more Dilbert cartoons displayed in offices, the less engagement of workers.

Further up exec ladder you go, the more extroverts. But to be classed as such, just need to speak first and speak often. But the prime measure of success was number of contacts.

Common denominator of all the successful businessmen was that they had a mentor. You don't have time to make all the mistakes yourself; better to learn from the mistakes of others. And mentors make learning fun. They add a relationship to the stress, and push you to do your best.

In an ragument our brain gets hijacked by the war metaphor. It's not a discussion of facts and logic, it's a fight for victory. Even if you have rock solid evidence and back the other guy into a corner, they may concede, but they will certainly hate you. You might think "I'm just trying to explain ...", but this is just veiled dominance.

Put someone in an MRI scanner. Get them riled up about something they care about, then show them evidence contradicting what they believe. The partof the brain responsible for logical reasoning literally shuts down. The brain cannot process what you are trying to tell them. Our dinosaur brain assumes every dispute is a threat.

Police negotiators dealing with emotionally disturbed people found empathy was what worked. Offer food and listen to what they say. Don't get angry. (Pretend you're talking to a child having a tantrum.) Their anger will subside with time if you don't aggravate them by yelling back. ("Please speak more slowly. I'd like to help.") Don't judge anything they say. Just listen and acknowledge. Every so often paraphrase what they are saying back to them. You want them to say "Exactly!" as opposed to "You just don't get it!" You want to make your realtionship work? Be a good listener.

You have to calm the rage monster in their head that is literally preventing the thinking part of the brain from activating. Use questions, not statements: "What would you like me to do?" forces them to consider options. Don't solve their problems by telling them what to do. Help them solve themselves by feeding their responses back to them. If they come up with a solution, they're more likely to follow through with it.

The more successful you are, the more confident you become. One exec trainer has surveyed 50,000 businessmen. 80% of them rate ts in the top 20% of their peer group.; 70% claim they are in top 10%. The numbers get even more ridiculous among professionals with higher social status, such as doctors or pilots.

We all have positive illusions about ourselves. Survey asked who would get into heaven: Bill Clinton 52%, Michael Jordan 65% and Mother Teresa 79%. But 87% said 'me'.

Successful people more optimistic - see opportunities where others may just see threats.

Overconfidence makes others feel you're both competent and higher in status. "The secret of leadership is to play a role, to pretend, to be skilful actor." And it works both ways: pretending to smile makes you happier, feeling that you're in control reduces stress and pain.

But when it comes to CEOs, overconfidence is a lot worse than incompetence. The Dunning-Kruger effect - being so overconfident that you deny reality and don't realize your incompetence. To recognize which CEOs will do the most damage to their company, count how many times they use "I" or "me" in their annual letter to shareholders.

James Baldwin "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."

Abraham Lincoln the only American president to hold a patent.

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