Subject: “IMMEDIATE Action Reqeusted [sic]”
They misspelled “requested,” which had the unintended effect of highlighting that this email was urgent.
There were some documents attached to the email. They wanted me to review the documents and sign them. Then, I would get a wire of money to my bank account – from Google, Inc.
I had no idea this email was coming. It was a nice surprise, since it was my birthday. It was all thanks to a decision I made three years prior.
Three years prior, I cleared my schedule and declared what I call a “Week of Want.” I gave myself an entire week to work on whatever I wanted. I had no plan at the time – that was the point of my Week of Want. Three years later, here I was getting a surprise paycheck, thanks to that Week of Want.
Creative work happens in “Extremistan” What was happening was a [Black Swan]. A rare and unpredictable event – in this case, a positive one. If you made several copies of the universe, and repeated my decision from three years prior, in most of those parallel universes, I probably wouldn’t end up getting money wired to my bank account from Google.
That’s because creative work happens in Extremistan. Nassim Taleb introduced Extremistan in his book, [The Black Swan]. Extremistan is a world of Black Swans – rare and unpredictable events.
Creative work does not happen in “Mediocristan” Other kinds of work happens in the opposite of Extremistan – what Taleb calls Mediocristan. Mediocristan is a world that’s stable and predictable.
Serving coffee is a good example of work that happens Mediocristan. There’s a steady supply of coffee, and a steady demand for coffee. If you get a job at Starbucks, they can more or less predict that supply and demand, as well as their overhead costs. So, they can pay you by the hour.
When your line of work is thinking of ideas and bringing those ideas into the world, you can’t get paid by the hour. Beyoncé does not get paid by the hour to make her music, even though she’s Beyoncé, and her next record is guaranteed to sell.
Much less is the world’s next Beyoncé getting paid by the hour. Nobody knows she’s the next Beyoncé. If you made copies of the universe, in many of those parallel universes, she wouldn’t even become the next Beyoncé.
You need clear priorities in Extremistan When you’re working in a pure Mediocristan, you don’t even need priorities. You know exactly what needs to be done, and you do it.
When you’re working in Extremistan, you do need clear priorities. There are a million things you could do – a million things that might work – so you have to be ruthless with your priorities.
You have to be ruthless in what you say yes to and what you say no to, and in trying to find some way to objectively see what the results are so you can make better decisions in the future.
Clear priorities have a dark side But clear priorities have a dark side. It’s that when you have clear priorities, you only put your money on the sure bets.
And when all of your money is on sure bets, you aren’t even gambling anymore. You’ve moved yourself from Extremistan to Mediocristan. You can keep steady paychecks coming, but you’ll never hit the jackpot.
So employ the Barbell Strategy So how do you give yourself the opportunity to hit it big, without going bust? You need to spend some time in Extremistan.
Taleb calls it “The Barbell Strategy”: Imagine a barbell, with fat weights on the ends, and a thin bar in the middle. On one end of the barbell is your sure bets. If you’re investing, that’s treasury bills. On the other end of the barbell is your risky bets. If you’re investing, that might be options, or cryptocurrencies.
What you’re avoiding is the stuff in the middle. Don’t make big bets where you can lose your shirt, and avoid the seemingly-conservative investment