Monday Musings (Dallas, Learning, Football, Beer, Cars)


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Hi friends,

Greetings from Dallas!

For the past few weeks, I’ve been following Porter Robinson around the country to see his live shows. I’ve seen him in New York, Austin, and this weekend, Dallas.

It’s the biggest metro area in Texas, and it's America taken to its extreme. They say everything’s bigger in Texas. From 25 oz tall boys, to appetizers that could feed a family of four, to the world’s largest Jumbotron at the Cowboys football stadium, everything’s even bigger in Dallas.

Here’s what I want to share this week:

Writing Online and Using Twitter: A sprawling interview about cohort-based courses and my writing process — from finding ideas, to writing from conversation, to growing a Twitter following. Here's the full video and podcast.

How Learning Happens: The school system has a flawed model of motivation. Too many teachers treat their students like Pavlovian dogs. Instead, they should follow in the footsteps of Richard Feynman and remember that learning begins with inspiration.

Coolest Things I Learned This Week

How I Wrote Today’s Musings

I’ll be honest: I’m tired of being on the computer. I want to spend more time outdoors or talking to friends. Thus, I haven't spent as much time at the keyboard as I have in the past.

Instead of writing a first draft of this Musings edition at the keyboard, I transcribed this week’s ideas on my phone. By the time I sat down at my computer, I already had a rough draft of everything I wanted to say. Instead of typing from scratch, I just edited the ideas I’d already captured on my phone.

— —

Writing is Like a Sidewalk

Last week, I wrote about how Warren Buffett addresses the early drafts of his shareholder letters to his sister, Dorothy. Once he’s done writing it, he replaces her name with “Shareholders.” He does this because writing for a huge audience increases the chance of getting writer’s block. But the task becomes easier when he writes for one person instead.

It’s like walking on a sidewalk. People who are paying attention don’t fall off sidewalks. Walking on a sidewalk is so easy in fact that you don’t even think about it. But if you put that same sidewalk 100 feet in the air, you’d start freaking out. Your heart would be racing and your palms would be sweatier than a college kid in their first job interview. Just by changing the context, you’ve turned something easy into something anxiety-inducing.

Writing is the same way. It’s not that hard. What’s hard is knowing an audience is going to read what you’re writing and critique your ideas. That’s why my students can pen brilliant emails when they write directly to somebody they trust but freak out when it’s time to write in public.

— —

Hedging in Academic Writing

Too much academic writing looks like this:

  • Blue: Main argument
  • Yellow: Hedge
  • Green: Hedging the hedge

— —

Funding the Next Renaissance

A friend says that the entire Renaissance cost roughly $150 million to fund, adjusted for today’s dollars. Considering its impact on art and culture, that’s a trivial amount of money. Given how little cash it takes to fund intellectual work, I believe we are wildly underinvested in patronage.

The initial burst of Write of Passage was made possible by a $20,000 grant from Tyler Cowen’s Emergent Ventures program. I wonder how many other creators are a small grant away from a major breakthrough. But that doesn’t mean effective patronage is easy. Since creative excellence follows a huge power law, a small number of recipients will account for the majority of progress. Thus, the most "expensive" part of financing intellectual work is not the money or selecting the best applicants but attracting high-potential talent in the first place. Sharing ideas in public in a way that attracts high-quality people is the best way to do that.

Tyler’s done that with Marginal Revolution. Many creators are doing the same with their audiences. Justin Murphy is doing it with fringe intellectuals, and Ana Lorena Fabrega (a Write of Passage alum) is doing it with teachers who are unsatisfied with the current education landscape. Unlike 15th century Florence, their reach isn't constrained by geography.

What if we’re a small uptick in patronage from funding another Renaissance?

Photo of the Week

I snapped this photo at yesterday’s Dallas Cowboys game. Here are my general impressions on the Dallas-Fort Worth area after spending the weekend there:

  1. Dallas has more highways than any city I’ve ever been to. The express lanes are as close to the Autobahn as anything you’ll find in America. People were passing us at more than 100mph, even though the speed limit was 75. During my entire time there, I didn’t see one policeman on the highways, which made them feel lawless.
  2. Future generations will look at Texas highway overpasses with the same levels of fascination that we bring to Roman aqueducts.
  3. The best streets in downtown Fort Worth are the brick-paved ones. Same as New York. Both cities serve as a reminder that we can often make the world better by making it less efficient. Brick roads encourage safety because they serve as an implicit speed limit. They’re so bumpy that they force people to slow down. How else can we encourage our desired behavior by changing the environment instead of instilling explicit rules?
  4. Fort Worth is the first major city I’ve been to in a long time where people talk about how safe it is. A friend says it’s because one of the wealthy families in town pays for a private security force to patrol the city.
  5. 7-Eleven was founded in Dallas and is the only city in America where 7-Eleven‘s are actually nice.
  6. Both Dallas and Fort Worth have a culture of lights on skyscrapers that light up the nighttime sky. I hope this becomes a much bigger trend in America. Watching buildings compete for who has cooler lights is the kind of cyberpunk aesthetic that I love about Hong Kong.
  7. Dallas churches act as a de-facto farm system for the music industry because they introduce so many kids to choirs and guitars at a young age. The best ones play in front of a large audience (Dallas megachurches seat thousands of people), which gives them confidence and makes them easily discoverable. For example, Leon Bridges got his start playing at a church in Fort Worth, and Katy Perry went from performing in churches to the Super Bowl halftime show. Perhaps Nashville executives should visit churches to find the next great American rockstar.
  8. My producer says that you can make more money as a music teacher in Dallas than just about anywhere else. Kids in the band programs often get private lessons during school — which initiates a positive feedback loop. More churches create more musicians, which attracts more music teachers, which improves the artist quality. Maybe this is one reason why the Dallas Symphony is quite good.

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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