Notes from “The Algebra of Happiness” by Scott Galloway


An interesting new book, on a topic old as the hills. What makes us happy, how can we be happy, what things have the most value in our lives, what should?

I’ve read a lot of books but I have never had so many notes. It’s a good book.

My notes:

  • Young people, especially young men, struggle to square the mixed messages about how to thread the needle of relationships and success to achieve personal and professional meaning in our capitalist world.
  • Your childhood, teens, and college years are the stuff of Han Solo, beer, road trips, random sexual encounters, and self-discovery. Pure magic. From your mid-twenties through your mid-forties, though, shit gets real—work, stress, and the realization that, despite what your teachers and your mom told you, you likely won’t be a senator or have a fragrance named after you.
  • As you age, the stress of building the life you’ve been told you deserve, and are capable of, takes a toll. Also, somebody you love gets sick and dies, and the harshness of life comes into full view.
  • Then, in your fifties (earlier if you’re soulful), you begin to register all the wonderful blessings that are everywhere. I mean everywhere. Beautiful beings that look and smell like you (children). The ability to deliver some sort of sweat or intelligence that people will pay you for, that you can then support your family with.
  • So if in adulthood you find you’re stressed, even unhappy at times, recognize that this is a normal part of the journey and just keep on keepin’ on. Happiness is waiting for you.
  • We all know somebody who’s successful, in great shape, plays in a band, is close with their parents, volunteers at the ASPCA, and has a food blog. Assume you’re not that person.
  • “Struggle porn” will tell you that you must be miserable before you can be successful. This isn’t true: you can experience a lot of reward along the way to success. But if balance is your priority in your youth, then you need to accept that, unless you are a genius, you may not reach the upper rungs of economic security.
  • The slope of the trajectory for your career is (unfairly) set in the first five years post-graduation. If you want the trajectory to be steep, you’ll need to burn a lot of fuel.
  • The world is not yours for the taking, but for the trying. Try hard, really hard.
  • The world does not belong to the big, but to the fast.
  • You want to cover more ground in less time than your peers. This is partially built on talent, but mostly on strategy and endurance.
  • The ratio of time you spend sweating to watching others sweat is a forward-looking indicator of your success. Show me a guy who watches ESPN every night, spends all day Sunday watching football, and doesn’t work out, and I’ll show you a future of anger and failed relationships. Show me someone who sweats every day and spends as much time playing sports as watching them on TV, and I’ll show you someone who is good at life.
  • the most important decision you’ll make is not where you work or who you party with, but who you choose to partner with for the rest of your life. Having
  • However, the most important decision you’ll make is not where you work or who you party with, but who you choose to partner with for the rest of your life.
  • Having a spouse, or life partner, whom you not only care for and want to have sex with, but who’s also a good teammate, softens the rough edges, and magnifies the shine of life.
  • Good sex is 10 percent of a relationship, but bad sex is 90 percent of a relationship.
  • You also need to ensure that you align on values like religion, how many kids you want, your approaches to raising kids, your proximity to your parents, sacrifices you’re willing to make for economic success, and who handles which responsibilities. Money is an especially important value for alignment, as the number one source of marital acrimony is financial stress. Does your partner’s contribution to, approach to, and expectations about money—and how it flows in and out of the household—fit with yours?
  • Economic growth over the next fifty years will be in supercities. Opportunity is a function of density.
  • Get to a place that’s crowded with success. Big cities are Wimbledon—even if you aren’t Rafael Nadal, your game will improve by being on the court with him. And you’ll either get in better shape or learn you shouldn’t be at Wimbledon.
  • Advice here is simple. While you’re young, get credentialed and get to a city.
  • There will always be great stories about Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and other college dropouts. Again, assume you’re not that person.
  • There is a correlation between how much money you have and how happy you are. Money can buy happiness, to a point. But once you reach a certain level of economic security, the correlation flattens.
  • I made the mistake of spending all my time, for most of my life, trying to figure out how to make more money, instead of taking a pause and asking myself what makes me happy.
  • But take notes on the things that give you joy and satisfaction, and start investing in those things.
  • Pay special attention to things that bring you joy that don’t involve mind-altering substances or a lot of money. Whether it’s cooking, capoeira, the guitar, or mountain biking, interests and hobbies add texture to your personality. Being “in the zone” is happiness. You lose the sense of time, forget yourself, and feel part of something larger.
  • There’s an old saying that compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe
  • The notion of putting money away is most important to the cohort that least understand it—young people—as “long term” is not a concept they’ve grasped. Many talented young people assume they’re so awesome that they’ll make a shit-ton of money. Okay, maybe . . . but just in case it doesn’t rain Benjamins, start putting away money early and often.
  • Most of us understand how compound interest works with money, but don’t recognize its power in other parts of our lives.
  • Take a ton of pictures, text your friends stupid things, check in with old friends as often as possible, express admiration to coworkers, and every day, tell as many people as you can that you love them. A couple of minutes every day—the payoff is small at first, and then it’s immense.
  • Increasingly, being a good citizen—being a good neighbor, respecting institutions, remembering where I come from, helping people I’ll never meet, taking an interest in a child who isn’t mine, and voting, all stuff I never thought about when I was younger—makes me feel like beating my chest.
  • Coming to grips with your shortcomings and making an effort to repair your deficits. In sum, being a man, and not a boy in a man’s body.
  • Masculinity now means relevance, good citizenship, and being a loving father.
  • It’s difficult to get to economic security with just your salary, as you will naturally raise or lower your lifestyle to match what you make.
  • As soon as possible, buy property or stocks, and try to find a job that has forced savings through a retirement plan or, better yet, options on the firm’s equity. Always be in the stock market, because you aren’t smart enough to predict when to jump in and out on your own.
  • The definition of “rich” is having passive income greater than your burn.
  • By the time you’re thirty, you should have a feel for what your burn is. Young people are 100 percent focused on their earnings. Adults also focus on their burn.
  • The presence of one thing in a man’s life predicted unhappiness better than any other factor: alcohol. It led to failed marriages, careers coming off the tracks, and bad health.
  • Studies show that people overestimate the amount of happiness things will bring them and underestimate the long-term positive effect of experiences.
  • On a balanced scorecard, the happiest people are those in monogamous relationships who have children.
  • The key to success is the ability to mourn and then move
  • Everyone experiences failure and tragedy. You will get fired, lose people you love, and likely have periods of economic stress. The key to success is the ability to mourn and then move on.
  • The number one piece of advice seniors would give to their younger selves is that they wish they’d been less hard on themselves.
  • Talent is key, but it will only gain you entrance to a crowded VIP room.
  • Let’s assume you are exceptionally talented. Maybe even in the top 1 percent. Congrats: you join 75 million people, the population of Germany, all vying for more than their share of the world’s resources.
  • most young people reading this book likely aspire to be in the top .1 percent. And talent alone won’t get you within spitting distance of .1 percent.
  • The chaser that takes talent over the top into success is hunger. Hunger can come from a lot of places. I don’t think I was born with it.
  • It didn’t take long to realize that the secret is to find something you’re good at. The rewards and recognition that stem from being great at something will make you passionate about whatever that something is.
  • The pressure many of us put on ourselves to be a good provider is irrational. The instinct to protect and nurture your offspring is core to the success of our species.
  • People who speak at universities, especially at commencement, who tell you to follow your passion—or my favorite, to “never give up”—are already rich.
  • Your job is to find something you’re good at, and after ten thousand hours of practice, get great at it.
  • The emotional and economic rewards that accompany being great at something will make you passionate about whatever that something is.
  • Nobody starts their career passionate about tax law. But great tax lawyers are passionate about colleagues who admire them, creating economic security for their families, and marrying someone more impressive than they are.
  • Careers are asset classes. If a sector becomes overinvested with human capital, the returns on those efforts are suppressed.
  • I try to avoid investing in anything that sounds remotely cool.
  • If, on the other hand, the business, and the issue the business addresses, sounds so boring I want to put a gun in my mouth, then . . . bingo, I’ll invest.
  • YOUR ROLE vis-à-vis your parents will reverse. They become the child and you the parent.
  • The most rewarding things in life are rooted in instinct.
  • We give a lot of airtime to how rewarding it is to raise kids. What gets less attention is how rewarding it is to help take care of your parents. Start now.
  • The lesson here . . . easy: don’t be a fucking idiot like yours truly, and get the easy stuff right. Show up early. Have good manners. Follow up.
  • I believe most people are especially repelled by attributes in other people that remind them of things they loathe about themselves.
  • THE TRAITS of successful entrepreneurs haven’t changed much in the digital age: you need more builders than branders, and it’s key to have a technologist as part of, or near, the founding team.
  • Are you comfortable with public failure?
  • Most people can’t wrap their heads around the notion of working without getting paid—and 99-plus percent will never risk their own capital for the pleasure of . . . working.
  • Most failures are private: you decide law school isn’t for you (bombed the LSAT), to spend more time with your kids (got fired), or to work on “projects” (can’t get a job).
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re running the corner store or Pinterest—you’d better be damn good at selling if you plan to start a business.
  • Being successful in a big firm isn’t easy, and it requires a unique skill set. You have to play nice with others, suffer injustices and bullshit at every turn, and be politically savvy—get noticed by key stakeholders doing good work and garner executive-level sponsorship.
  • With the endless and well-publicized stories of billionaire college dropouts, we romanticize entrepreneurship. Ask yourself, and some people you trust, the preceding questions about your personality and skills. If you answer positively on the first two, and you’re not skilled at working at a big company, then step into the cage of chaos monkeys. When to Take Cover IN 1999, I and a gaggle of other San Francisco internet founders and CEOs went to an airfield where we browsed private jets.
  • Kids who can code and are two years out of school, who are mediocre, are making $100,000+ in the market. What’s worse is that they believe they’re worth it. If you can code, yay for you. But you have no real hard skills or management ability. Not recognizing that you’re overpaid means you won’t have the funds to avoid your parents’ basement when shit gets real.
  • When times are bad, people look to gray hair for leadership. When times are good/frothy, people look for youth.
  • If the tech boom continues its run, there’s a non-zero probability a teenager will be the founder/CEO of a $1 billion-value tech firm in the next decade. When that happens, we really will be on the precipice of the economic zombie apocalypse.
  • I’ve founded, or cofounded, nine firms. The factor most strongly correlated to success or failure? When they were started.
  • Despite well-publicized examples of people who made billions with extreme concentration of their wealth (think Bezos, Gates, and Zuckerberg), assume you will not be one of these people.
  • It’s key, if you’re doing really well, to realize that much of it isn’t your fault—you’ve been swept up in a boom. This humility will result in your living within your means and will prepare you financially and psychologically for the next card you’re dealt. And when the next part of the cycle shows up—and it will—you can take solace knowing (again) it’s not your fault, and you aren’t the idiot the market might make you feel you are.
  • It’s instinctual to “manage to the test.” The metrics we value are the guardrails of our intentions, actions, and values. We all have an internal Fitbit/Apple Watch, trying to hit certain metrics in different areas of life. Your metrics, and the numbers that loom large for you, say a lot about who you are.
  • people who tell you to follow your passion are already rich.
  • Every wealthy person I’ve known measures their net worth in frightening detail, and measures it often. You have to stay nimble, or you stand to lose a lot. We live in a capitalist society, and the amount of money you have is a forward-looking indicator of the effectiveness of your healthcare, the comfort of your home, the harmony of your relationships, and the quality of your children’s education.
  • Benchmarks, metrics, and milestones range from the meaningless to the profound. Accountability and insight are the by-products of math. Numbers yield insights about markets, how value is created, and how we want to live our lives. A review of the metrics in your life is a healthy exercise.
  • Professional success is the means, not the end.
  • The end is economic security for your family and, more important, meaningful relationships with family and friends.
  • Serendipity Is a Function of Courage
  • nothing wonderful, I’m talking really fantastic, will happen without taking a risk and subjecting yourself to rejection. Serendipity is a function of courage.
  • My willingness to endure rejection from universities, peers, investors, and women has been hugely rewarding.
  • Knowing what you want is a blessing, and fear of rejection is a bigger obstacle than lack of talent or the market. Train yourself to take some sort of risk (ask for a raise, introduce yourself around at a party) every day and get comfortable grasping beyond your reach.
  • The truth about 90-plus percent of entrepreneurs is that we start companies not because we’re so skilled, but because we don’t have the skills to be an effective employee.
  • Being an adult is about recognizing that it’s not all about you.
  • there’s a difference between being right and being effective. Employees must navigate the two and realize they are part of a team, and they need to be supportive of one another.
  • Amateurs act on emotion, pros on numbers.
  • Randy and Cy instilled in me that remarkable men can become irrationally passionate about the well-being of a child . . . who isn’t theirs.
  • LOVE AND relationships are the ends—everything else is just the means.
  • Love received is comforting, love reciprocated is rewarding, and love given completely is eternal.
  • The key decision you’ll make in life is who you have kids with. Who you marry is meaningful; who you have kids with is profound.
  • Raising kids with someone who is kind and competent and who you enjoy being with is a series of joyous moments smothered in comfort and reward. Raising kids with someone you don’t like, or who isn’t competent, is moments of joy smothered in anxiety and disappointment.
  • Building a life with someone who loves you, and who you love, near guarantees a life of reward interrupted by moments of pure joy.
  • Key to evolution is trying to punch above your weight class and mix your DNA with someone who has better DNA—natural selection. People rejecting your overtures is a relatively accurate indicator that you are in fact punching too high.
  • You will, on a balanced scorecard, likely end up with someone in your weight class in terms of character, success, looks, and pedigree.
  • Like someone who likes you.
  • Studies show that marriage is advantageous economically.
  • Don’t keep score.
  • Don’t ever let your wife be cold or hungry.
  • Express affection and desire as often as possible.
  • In my experience, the most rewarding things in life are family and professional achievement. Without someone to share these things with, you’ve seen a ghost—it sort of happened, but not really. However, with the right partner, these things feel real, you feel more connected to the species, and all “this” begins to register meaning.
  • Partners who can take what they’ve built together and throw the full force of that at each other’s happiness are likely the root of our prosperity as a species.
  • The most rewarding things in life aren’t accoutrements or our technological progress (Cartier or Boeing) but things that have been baked into us over millions of years to augment the species.
  • WE’VE BEEN reading words for several hundred years, listening to words for thousands, and learning from images for millions of years. We, as a species, are great with images. We can interpret/absorb an image fifty times faster than words, as we’ve had a lot more practice with visuals.
  • AFFECTION EXCHANGE theory, introduced by Professor Kory Floyd, postulates that affection strengthens bonds, provides access to resources, and communicates your potential as a parent, increasing your pool of potential mates.
  • IN A capitalist society, we mark life by our purchases.
  • Yale economist and Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller argues that, when maintenance is accounted for, a house isn’t a much better investment than any other asset class.
  • A better proxy for your life isn’t your first home, but your last.
  • Your first house signals the meaningful—your future and possibility. Your last home signals the profound—the people who love you.
  • but if you die at home, surrounded by people who love you, you are a success. It’s a sign that you forged meaningful relationships and that you were generous with people.
  • Getting to a place, economically, emotionally, and spiritually, where you can love someone completely, without expecting anything in return, is the absolute.
  • The universe chooses prosperity and progress. we are hunter-gatherers and are happiest when in motion and surrounded by others.
  • a decent proxy for your success will be your ratio of sweating to watching others sweat (watching sports on TV).
  • It’s not about being ripped, but committing to being strong physically and mentally.
  • The trait most common among CEOs is that they exercise regularly.
  • As you get older and begin to register the finite time you have, you want to freeze time and have moments when you feel something.
  • School, discipline, and parenting are mostly about constructing filters so your kids stay in their swim lanes, stay out of jail, fit in, and chart a path toward a true north.
  • There is an arc to being an asshole. The aspirants (people trying to make a living) are generally nice and not expectant. I don’t know if it’s the humility you develop not having reached economic security, fear of pissing off the wrong gal or guy, values, or if it’s reflexive, as many spend time in the service industry.
  • The near successful (where I’ve spent most of my adult life) tend to overindex on the asshole meter, as our insecurity and anger at not having made the jump to light speed can turn to expectations and actions that vainly attempt to highlight what a big fucking deal
  • The super-successful people I know are usually nicer, more generous, and generally better mannered.
  • In psychology research, gratitude is consistently correlated with greater happiness.
  • Nobody ever says at a funeral, “He was too generous, too kind, and much too loving.”
  • Food, sex, and kids. We’re wired to be addicted to things fundamental to the survival of the species.
  • I look at the belt and feel the need to invest in relationships in case they are all I’m left with, and to maintain the perspective that, in the end, that is all we have, and all that matters.
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Solving the Wrong Problems

I occasionally come across some very interesting topics on social media.

Happened a few days ago when someone on Twitter asked what if we had an app that notified people where and when fuel is available. Zimbabweans spend a lot of time queuing for petrol, hundreds of thousands of productivity hours lost. An app would help everyone, and additionally make the process more efficient.

It’s a brilliant idea that I suddenly saw great potential for. And a number of suggestions  immediately sprang to mind, like an automated ticketing machine that a motorist can collect at the filling station with their number in the queue.

But something didn’t feel right. Fuel should always be availabe. That’s what normal countries are like.

And then I remembered Dan Norman’s advice in his  brilliant “The Design of everyday Things” (prior thoughts on this blog) (wikipedia). Engineers solve problems, he said, but designers look for problems. Good designers start by trying to understand the problem before attempting to solve it.

“A brilliant solution to the wrong problem can be worse than no solution at all:
solve the correct problem.“, he writes.

This problem is wrong.  It is certainly interesting, and may lead to  brilliant solutions but it is not the right kind of problem.

I think in Africa we spend way too much time solving the wrong problems.

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Learning Design

I used to think design skills and creativity were things a person either had or did not have. People, I imagined, were born good designers or not. And I thought myself unfortunate to be born a bad designer.

I was wrong.

Making websites  has taught me that there are many basic design principles that can be learnt. I’ve started reading books on design to get a better appreciation of the subject, and one of the best books on the subject is called “Don’t Make Me Think”.

It’s a good title, but more importantly it’s a pillar of design. Good design is intuitive, it’s easy to figure out.

If your user has to think deeply on how to navigate a website , then you have failed. If a website/app/road/device is not intuitive the users feel stupid.

When users feel stupid they don’t use the product much. No one likes feeling stupid.

So good design, no matter how distinctive or novel, must be familiar. Like an old friend.

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The All New Kindle Paperwhite

I just collected my All New Kindle Paperwhite. Weird name I know but who cares.

The device looks almost like my old Kindle but there are many new and better features. I am still setting it up and will only fully get the feel of it after a couple of days.

I have promised the guys over at TechZim a review and that should be ready next week.

But by God, it’s so beautiful.

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A currency that is not

A few days ago in his Monetary Policy Statement the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe gave us a new currency, albeit with much protestation that it’s not really a currency. Indeed prior to the Monetary Policy government officials had been quick and vehement in their denial of a new currency.

But we eventually got a new currency, called RTGS Dollars, whatever that means. The “new” currency is to trade “freely” with other international currencies, unlike the bond notes which were fatally and foolishly fixed at 1:1 withe USD.

According to the RBZ this move, adequately explained here by NewZWire, will solve some of our problems. I find it hard to see how this will be achieved.

Earlier today media sources reported that the currency was to start trading at RTGS $2.50 to the USD, a rate the RBZ came up with for no clear reasons. I’m reliably informed there wasn’t any trade at all.

The black market, whose death knell was supposedly sounded by the Monetary Policy, remains unruffled. At close of day today the rates had slightly risen to around RTGS $4.1 to the USD if my social media feeds are to believed.

Yet another baffling move from Mangudya- who famously promised to resign if the bod notes failed.

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Dark Times for Zimbabwe


The first two months of 2019 have been terrible for Zimbabwe.

In January the security forces went on a spree of rape, murder, abductions , illegal detentions and mindless brutality.

We lost perhaps our biggest musical icon.

February has not given us respite.

Dozens of miners are trapped, likely dead, in mine shafts. The government’s response is too little, way too late.

And today Charles Mungoshi, an extraordinary wordsmith left us.

We live in truly dark times.

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A Look into the Future: Artificial Intelligence Generates Fake Faces and It’s Creepy

             This person does not exist 

If you go on This Person Does Not Exist you’ll see an image of a stranger, perhaps one you might meet some day, and each time you refresh another stranger comes up. Nothing remarkable, you might conclude.

You’d be very wrong. There’s everything remarkable about those pictures: Each and everyone of them is fake, they are not pictures of  “strangers”, rather, they are pictures of people who do not exist. You will never meet any of them.

The site, created by Phillip Wang, an Uber engineer, builds on an Artificial Intelligence research from last year by chip maker NVIDIA, to generate fake pictures using complex algorithms and real faces.

“Each time you refresh the site, the network will generate a new facial image from scratch from a 512 dimensional vector,” wrote Wang in a Facebook post announcing the site.

Wang’s website has generated a lot of interest from tech reporters- it has appeared in virtually every tech publication worth the name. It’s an interesting development that demonstrates the ever growing power of Artificial Intelligence and the vast possibilities it offers.

But after the excitement comes the concerns: What can criminals and other malevolent people do when equipped with such tools? The possibilities for criminal enterprise are vast- from scams and fraud to propaganda. You can have a whole political campaign of people who don’t exist.

Fake profiles on social media will have realistic images that cannot be exposed by reverse searches. And certainly as the software grows more sophisticated, it should be possible to generate multiple, but different, images of the “same person”- enough to build an entire fake life complete with a backstory.

I have to add that I refreshed the page quite a number of times and didn’t see a single black person, but that’ll obviously change as more images are fed into the algorithm.

As Wang says on his Facebook post, “Faces are most salient to our cognition….” Indeed they are, except sometimes they are not real faces at all. And that’s not a comforting thought.

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What I’m Reading This Week (Non Fiction)

This week I’m reading Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Habit of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

It’s a book about…..tidying up, of course. But, seriously, that’s what it is – a book about becoming tidier, more organized and less cluttered. The book is very popular and has even been made into a Netflix show.

I’ve meant to read the book for several years now but have always procrastinated. However recently I decided to make some few changes in my life, and decluttering is one of the goals.

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Zimbabwe on the brink?

Seems my country is once again on the brink of economic collapse. The massive increase in fuel prices announced last night by Emerson Mnangagwa may turn out to be the Sarajevo moment for something momentous.

By increasing the price of fuel by a factor of over two, government set the stage for further price hikes on goods that are already priced out of reach for most consumers.

And people are not happy. Employers will have to fend off renewed demands for increased wages by employees and the government in particular will have to increase the salaries of its workers. Yet any salary increase is unlikely to be even close to the rate of price increases. For example government offered a mere 10% salary increase when prices have more than tripled. Even then, any salary increase will push the prices even higher.

If they choose not to give in to worker demands we will have continuous mass action. Already there are calls for stay aways and “shutdowns”.

Not too sure how this will pan out but I think the government is in trouble and the situation needs to be handled with great care.

In any case the next few weeks will be very interesting. Will be very surprised if something major doesn’t happen.

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