I Should’ve Read That Book A Year Ago (Not That It Would’ve Mattered)

I’ve had a copy of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman on my to-be-read pile for a while now.  Long enough that it’s already out in paperback and I have the hard cover.  Well, I finally started reading it a week or so ago.

And I keep thinking, why didn’t I read this before I started on the trying to be a successful published writer path?  (Because it points out that most of us are overly optimistic, thinking we’re going to succeed where others have failed but we should really start with the base rate for success in what we’re trying to do, which is low, and only adjust upward from there a bit if we really think we’re special and above average.)

Maybe if I’d read that book I’d have chosen a different path and be debt-free by now. (And slaving away in an office, miserable and unhappy because I wasn’t allowed to be authentically myself 90% off the time and rarely allowed to do what I thought was the best solution, but ya know, the rent would be paid.)

Of course, I’m only halfway through right now but I think one of the other lessons of the book is that it wouldn’t have mattered.  I could’ve read the book, known how I was supposed to judge things, known that it was very unlikely that anyone succeeds at this, including me, and still gone right ahead as if I’d never read the book.

Because that’s how our minds work.  It just is.  We think we’re special snowflakes but most of us aren’t.  (I am, of course.  Always an exception to every rule, right?)

It’s a good book for other reasons, too.  Because buried between the analysis of judgement and decision-making is information on how people’s minds work.  Some of it is obviously related to selling books and writing good stories–see page sixty-three of the hardcover for an example–and the rest of it should be if I can just get my mind to work through how.  It’s there to be deciphered it just isn’t as blatant as the lessons on page sixty-three.

Anyway.  Worth a look if you like psychology and non-fiction books.  I’m on page 260 right now, so a hundred and fifty pages to go, but thought I’d share this little nugget I just read:

“I have had several occasions to ask founders and participants in innovative start-ups a question: To what extent will the outcome of your effort depend on what you do in your firm?  This is evidently an easy question; the answer comes quickly and in my small sample it has never been less than 80%,  Even when they are not sure they will succeed, these bold people think their fate is almost entirely in their own hands.  They are surely wrong: the outcome of a start-up depends as much on the achievements of its competitors and on changes in the market as on its own efforts.”

So true and so hard to admit.

Not that writing and getting stuff out there isn’t essential to success.  But what you write and what others write and what you price at and what others price at and where you advertise and if others do too and the quality of your covers versus the quality of other’s covers and what other distractions people have or don’t have in their lives and whether you say one comment that leads to an internet furor or not and who you know and whether they help you or hinder you and…

On and on and on.

You have to do the work.  You do.  But that isn’t always all there is to it.

I’m sure I’ll find more lessons along the way in this book.  Too bad I’m too blind and arrogant to actually listen to them.  Haha.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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6 Responses to I Should’ve Read That Book A Year Ago (Not That It Would’ve Mattered)

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    Kahneman is wrong: the chance of making making money should be judged on the basis you are probably average, and that both the market and your competitors’ reactions to it is at least as important as your own effort; but money is only one potential measure of success – and potentially the least valid one.

    So the psychology is interesting, but I suggest writing ‘Life isn’t Zero Sum’ on the bookmark you use so you don’t forget how narrow a section of the whole he is focused on.

    • M. H. Lee says:

      The chance of accomplishing anything in life is based on more than just one person’s will to accomplish it. Without the infrastructure to enable your ambition you can’t achieve anything in life no matter how much you want to.

      • Dave Higgins says:

        I suppose if you accept that I couldn’t have extrapolated communication from first principles, and that the presence of another person is infrastructure, then that is true; but otherwise telling a story that entertains me requires no external input.

        So the thesis that all achievement requires more than one person’s will falls before a contrary example.

      • M. H. Lee says:

        I was thinking more of how you don’t have to hunt or grow your own food, build your own shelter, etc. The society you live in and the opportunities it gives you very much influence what you can or cannot accomplish.

      • Dave Higgins says:

        True. And if that was Kahneman’s thesis, then I misinterpreted.

        Of course, by that reasoning the greatest influence is the long dead: the transition from craft to mass production had a larger impact on cost-to-produce than subsequent improvements in production, and so forth.

        So, the more advanced a civilisation you live in, the less the current efforts of other people help or hinder in the overall scheme.

      • M. H. Lee says:

        The bit I read from Kahneman was specific to start-up businesses trying to make money. And I’d say that the KU change that just happened and how the carrythrough effects onto other platforms are going to play out over the next three months or so are the perfect example of what he was talking about. How many authors trying to make money with their writing are going to be impacted by these changes even though nothing about what they’re doing has changed?

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