The Easiest Person to Fool Is Yourself

Richard Feynman said about science that, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

There are a plethora of ways in which one can fool themselves and strong discipline is required to understand how we know what we know.

  • Illusion of Explanatory Depth

    People feel they understand things better than they actually do. This leads to biases and poor decision-making because of overconfidence in their knowledge.

  • How to Know When a New Hire Isn’t Working Out

    The easiest way to know that a new hire isn’t working out (and not fool yourself in the process) is to have a plan before they are hired. A job description and 30/60/90 plan are important tools to clarify what you expect this person to do and the key milestones to get there. Without them, you will confuse yourself and it’s unfair to the people you hire—feedback will feel arbitrary and unfair.

  • Writing Makes Ideas Rigid

    Writing is like taking an idea and turning it into a rigid object. When ideas are fluid they become flexible and imprecise, able to fill into whatever context is needed—those “that’s not what I meant” moments and contradictions others allow us to have in conversations.

  • Objectivity and Fallibility

    The fastest way to lose your objectivity is to lose your sense of fallibility. If you don’t think that you can be wrong, every decision you make feels right.

  • It’s Easier to Blame Others for Lack of Success

    Given the choice between taking responsibility for lack of success in a given arena and blaming others for keeping you down, many will choose to blame others. There is comfort in a narrative that it’s not you, but some external conspiracy to keep you from what you were entitled to.

  • Thinking Better Thoughts

    I remember when I first started working at Stripe I felt like the dumbest person in the room. I was amazed at how smart everyone seemed and the writing…gosh, the writing! If I wanted to be like that too, something needed to change.

  • How to Be a Good Product Engineer

    Companies don’t really want frontend engineers or backend engineers or infrastructure engineers. If you work at an engineering as product organization, they want good product engineers solving user problems. As an industry, this is poorly understood and little is written to help people understand the principles of good product engineering.

  • Parochial Errors Happen When You Have a Narrow View

    A parochial error happens when you falsely believe that something in your narrow view of the world applies more broadly than it does. For example, thinking the seasons everywhere around the earth in the same way as your home town because that’s what you personally experience.

  • Controlled Self-Deception

    Being successful is mostly luck but working smartly (skill plus hard work) increases your luck. The trick is to balance intellectual honesty (it’s mostly luck) with controlled self-deception (success is due to skill and hard work). If you are too honest, you become pessimistic and if you’re too self-deceptive you get a false sense that everyone less successful is lazy or dumb.

  • Magic Vending Machine Business Model

    A lot of startups have a business model which roughly equates to: put a dollar in, get two dollars out. This “magic vending machine” is obviously unsustainable but easy to fool oneself into thinking you have excellent product market fit.

  • Solo Founders Are Less Likely to Pivot

    The likelihood of pivoting seems to increase as the number of founders increases. Solo founders are the least likely to pivot compared to co-founders of 2, 3, and 4. The most likely to pivot is when there are 4 founders.

  • An Epistemic Status Sets Expectations About Content

    A trait of digital gardening is to include metadata in a post to indicate how confident the author is in the post. This is a neat way of making space for half-finished ideas and works-in-progress.