As a consultant and advisor, I’ve helped over 50 entrepreneurs improve their businesses. 

Currently working in AustraliaThailand, and Albania. About to publish my first book about the five keys to an incredible career.

On the shoulders of giants

It is a privilege to live in a time where the work of the few geniuses our civilizations’ have produced is freely available and easily accessible. This essay is simply a collection of paragraphs that I find to be bedrock ideas. Meaning, they cannot be expressed more deeply. They hit the bedrock, the deepest root, of our intellectual and moral capacity. I will add to this continuously. I re-read it regularly.

Let no one be surprised if, in speaking of entirely new principalities as I shall do, I adduce the highest examples both of prince and of state; because men, walking almost always in paths beaten by others, and following by imitation their deeds, are yet unable to keep entirely to the ways of others or attain to the power of those they imitate. A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savour of it. Let him act like the clever archers who, designing to hit the mark which yet appears too far distant, and knowing the limits to which the strength of their bow attains, take aim much higher than the mark, not to reach by their strength or arrow to so great a height, but to be able with the aid of so high an aim to hit the mark they wish to reach.

Machiavelli, The Prince

But to exercise the intellect the prince should read histories, and study there the actions of illustrious men, to see how they have borne themselves in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, so as to avoid the latter and imitate the former; and above all do as an illustrious man did, who took as an exemplar one who had been praised and famous before him, and whose achievements and deeds he always kept in his mind, as it is said Alexander the Great imitated Achilles, Caesar Alexander, Scipio Cyrus. And whoever reads the life of Cyrus, written by Xenophon, will recognize afterwards in the life of Scipio how that imitation was his glory, and how in chastity, affability, humanity, and liberality Scipio conformed to those things which have been written of Cyrus by Xenophon. A wise prince ought to observe some such rules, and never in peaceful times stand idle, but increase his resources with industry in such a way that they may be available to him in adversity, so that if fortune chances it may find him prepared to resist her blows.

Machiavelli, The Prince

But, it being my intention to write a thing which shall be useful to him who apprehends it, it appears to me more appropriate to follow up the real truth of the matter than the imagination of it; for many have pictured republics and principalities which in fact have never been known or seen, because how one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil.

Machiavelli, The Prince

… for he who has once begun to live by robbery will always find pretexts for seizing what belongs to others

Machiavelli, The Prince

Thus it will always happen that he who is not your friend will demand your neutrality, whilst he who is your friend will entreat you to declare yourself with arms. And irresolute princes, to avoid present dangers, generally follow the neutral path, and are generally ruined. But when a prince declares himself gallantly in favour of one side, if the party with whom he allies himself conquers, although the victor may be powerful and may have him at his mercy, yet he is indebted to him, and there is established a bond of amity; and men are never so shameless as to become a monument of ingratitude by oppressing you. Victories after all are never so complete that the victor must not show some regard, especially to justice. But if he with whom you ally yourself loses, you may be sheltered by him, and whilst he is able he may aid you, and you become companions on a fortune that may rise again.

Machiavelli, The Prince

Never let any Government imagine that it can choose perfectly safe courses; rather let it expect to have to take very doubtful ones, because it is found in ordinary affairs that one never seeks to avoid one trouble without running into another; but prudence consists in knowing how to distinguish the character of troubles, and for choice to take the lesser evil.

Machiavelli, The Prince

Therefore, do not let our princes accuse fortune for the loss of their principalities after so many years’ possession, but rather their own sloth, because in quiet times they never thought there could be a change (it is a common defect in man not to make any provision in the calm against the tempest), and when afterwards the bad times came they thought of flight and not of defending themselves, and they hoped that the people, disgusted with the insolence of the conquerors, would recall them. This course, when others fail, may be good, but it is very bad to have neglected all other expedients for that, since you would never wish to fall because you trusted to be able to find someone later on to restore you. This again either does not happen, or, if it does, it will not be for your security, because that deliverance is of no avail which does not depend upon yourself; those only are reliable, certain, and durable that depend on yourself and your valour.

Machiavelli, The Prince

WHEN the traveller, who had seen many countries and nations and continents, was asked what common attribute he had found everywhere existing among men, he answered, “They have a tendency to sloth.” Many may think that the fuller truth would have been, “They are all timid.” They hide themselves behind “manners” and “opinions.” At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvellously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time. He knows this, but hides it like an evil conscience;—and why? From fear of his neighbour, who looks for the latest conventionalities in him, and is wrapped up in them himself. But what is it that forces the man to fear his neighbour, to think and act with his herd, and not seek his own joy? Shyness perhaps, in a few rare cases, but in the majority it is idleness, the “taking things easily,” in a word the “tendency to sloth,” of which the traveller spoke. He was right; men are more slothful than timid, and their greatest fear is of the burdens that an uncompromising honesty and nakedness of speech and action would lay on them. It is only the artists who hate this lazy wandering in borrowed manners and ill-fitting opinions, and discover the secret of the evil conscience, the truth that each human being is a unique marvel. They show us, how in every little movement of his muscles the man is an individual self, and further—as an analytical deduction from his individuality—a beautiful and interesting object, a new and incredible phenomenon (as is every work of nature), that can never become tedious. If the great thinker despise mankind, it is for their laziness; they seem mere indifferent bits of pottery, not worth any commerce or improvement. The man who will not belong to the general mass, has only to stop “taking himself easily”; to follow his conscience, which cries out to him, “Be thyself! all that thou doest and thinkest and desirest, is not thyself!”

Every youthful soul hears this cry day and night, and quivers to hear it: for she divines the sum of happiness that has been from eternity destined for her, if she think of her true deliverance; and towards this happiness she can in no wise be helped, so long as she lies in the chains of Opinion and of Fear. And how comfortless and unmeaning may life become without this deliverance! There is no more desolate or Ishmaelitish creature in nature than the man who has broken away from his true genius, and does nothing but peer aimlessly about him. There is no reason to attack such a man at all, for he is a mere husk without a kernel, a painted cloth, tattered and sagging, a scarecrow ghost, that can rouse no fear, and certainly no pity. And though one be right in saying of a sluggard that he is “killing time” yet in respect of an age that rests its salvation on public opinion,—that is, on private laziness,—one must be quite determined that such a time shall be “killed,” once and for all: I mean that it shall be blotted from life’s true History of Liberty. Later generations will be greatly disgusted, when they come to treat the movements of a period in which no living men ruled, but shadow-men on the screen of public opinion; and to some far posterity our age may well be the darkest chapter of history, the most unknown because the least human. I have walked through the new streets of our cities, and thought how of all the dreadful houses that these gentlemen with their public opinion have built for themselves, not a stone will remain in a hundred years, and that the opinions of these busy masons may well have fallen with them. But how full of hope should they all be who feel that they are no citizens of this age! If they were, they would have to help on the work of “killing their time,” and of perishing with it,—when they wish rather to quicken the time to life, and in that life themselves to live.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Schopenhauer As Educator

“No one can build thee the bridge, over which thou must cross the river of life, save thyself alone. There are paths and bridges and demi-gods without number, that will gladly carry thee over, but only at the price of thine own self: thy self wouldst thou have to give in pawn, and then lose it. There is in the world one road whereon none may go, except thou: ask not whither it lead, but go forward. Who was it that spake that true word—’A man has never risen higher than when he knoweth not whither his road may yet lead him’?”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Schopenhauer As Educator

Set up these things that thou hast honoured before thee, and, maybe, they will show thee, in their being and their order, a law which is the fundamental law of thine own self. Compare these objects, consider how one completes and broadens and transcends and explains another, how they form a ladder on which thou hast all the time been climbing to thy self: for thy true being lies not deeply hidden in thee, but an infinite height above thee, or at least above that which thou dost commonly take to be thyself.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Schopenhauer As Educator

His greatness is that he can stand opposite the picture of life, and interpret it to us as a whole: while all the clever people cannot escape the error of thinking one comes nearer to the interpretation by a laborious analysis of the colours and material of the picture; with the confession, probably, that the texture of the canvas is very complicated, and the chemical composition of the colours undiscoverable. Schopenhauer knew that one must guess the painter in order to understand the picture. But now the whole learned fraternity is engaged on understanding the colours and canvas, and not the picture: and only he who has kept the universal panorama of life and being firmly before his eyes, will use the individual sciences without harm to himself; for, without this general view as a norm, they are threads that lead nowhere and only confuse still more the maze of our existence. Here we see, as I said, the greatness of Schopenhauer, that he follows up every idea, as Hamlet follows the Ghost, without allowing himself to turn aside for a learned digression, or be drawn away by the scholastic abstractions of a rabid dialectic. The study of the minute philosophers is only interesting for the recognition that they have reached those stages in the great edifice of philosophy where learned disquisitions for and against, where hair-splitting objections and counter-objections are the rule: and for that reason they evade the demand of every great philosophy to speak sub specie æternitatis—“this is the picture of the whole of life: learn thence the meaning of thine own life.” And the converse: “read thine own life, and understand thence the hieroglyphs of the universal life.” In this way must Schopenhauer’s philosophy always be interpreted; as an individualist philosophy, starting from the single man, in his own nature, to gain an insight into his personal miseries, and needs, and limitations, and find out the remedies that will console them: namely, the sacrifice of the ego, and its submission to the nobler ends, especially those of justice and mercy. He teaches us to distinguish between the true and the apparent furtherance of man’s happiness: how neither the attainment of riches, nor honour, nor learning, can raise the individual from his deep despair at his unworthiness; and how the quest for these good things can only have meaning through a universal end that transcends and explains them;—the gaining of power to aid our physical nature by them and, as far as may be, correct its folly and awkwardness. For one’s self only, in the first instance: and finally, through one’s self, for all. It is a task that leads to scepticism: for there is so much to be made better yet, in one and all!

Friedrich Nietzsche, Schopenhauer As Educator

Our happiness would of course be infinitely greater, if our inquiry showed that nothing so hopeful and splendid as our present epoch had ever existed. There are simple people in some corner of the earth to-day—perhaps in Germany—who are disposed to believe in all seriousness that the world was put right two years ago, and that all stern and gloomy views of life are now contradicted by “facts.” The foundation of the New German Empire is, to them, the decisive blow that annihilates all the “pessimistic” philosophisers,—no doubt of it. To judge the philosopher’s significance in our time, as an educator, we must oppose a widespread view like this, especially common in our universities. We must say, it is a shameful thing that such abominable flattery of the Time-Fetish should be uttered by a herd of so-called reflective and honourable men; it is a proof that we no longer see how far the seriousness of philosophy is removed from that of a newspaper. Such men have lost the last remnant of feeling, not only for philosophy, but also for religion, and have put in its place a spirit not so much of optimism as of journalism, the evil spirit that broods over the day—and the daily paper. Every philosophy that believes the problem of existence to be shelved, or even solved, by a political event, is a sham philosophy.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Schopenhauer As Educator

We do not know enough in order to form valid generalizations or even enough to be sure whether there are any generalizations to form. As it is, most of us as economists have some opinions on these matters. But these opinions have more to do with our preconceived ideas or ideals than with solid fact, and our habit of illustrating them by stray instances that have come under our notice is obviously but a poor substitute for serious research… It is impressionistic [and] does not come to grips with the real problems involved. Yet there is plenty of material. A great and profitable task awaits those who undertake it.

Joseph Schumpeter, The Creative Response in Economic History

It is our opinion that we should not cobble together methodological concepts in apriority but rather do what takes us the furthest regardless of our expectations. Especially the field of economics should not be staked out in advance. Instead, we should calmly approach the questions that interest us and clarify them. The method that seems to be the most useful to this goal still does not have to be generalizable. Of course, we will continue using the methods, which might or might not work but the latter does not mean our method is a bad one, nor does it mean the former is good. The tendency to generalize the usefulness of certain assertions (which are good to solve certain problems), leads to the odd situation that they can be defended through general reasoning and through certain examples without really satisfying anybody. It is easy for an opponent to prove exactly the opposite by using a different reasoning and different examples. And since both look at those aspects close to their heart, they will not be able to agree on anything. Each of them is totally convinced that he is right (and can actually prove it!) but the beginner in the field cannot get a grasp of anything.

These words summarize the whole history of the method dispute. It is not our goal to find generalizable axioms; the only actual axiom that is generally applicable is: act rationally. We also do not want to support one side or the other. We want to put those axioms that we deem to be correct in relation to each other, want to show their limits and their range, and apply them to individual cases in order to see whether or not they pass muster.

Joseph Schumpeter. The Nature and Essence of Economic Theory.

Don’t do anything stupid to avoid doing something difficult

If I were forced to pick one idea of Machiavelli’s to carry with me it would be this. We often do foolish things as a means to avoid challenges.

Here is the original quote:

… a blunder ought never to be perpetrated to avoid war, because it is not to be avoided, but is only deferred to your disadvantage.

Niccolò Machiavelli. The Prince.

This is an insanely useful idea.

You may have seen the part about not avoiding war expressed before. The above quote includes the preceding idea (about blunders), which is pretty damn important to include.

Here is another long version of the same concept (that of not avoiding necessary conflict) but with an alternative rationale.

Thus it happens in affairs of state, for when the evils that arise have been foreseen… they can be quickly redressed, but when, through not having been foreseen, they have been permitted to grow in a way that every one can see them, there is no longer a remedy. Therefore, the Romans, foreseeing troubles, dealt with them at once, and, even to avoid a war, would not let them come to a head, for they knew that war is not to be avoided, but is only to be put off to the advantage of others.

Niccolò Machiavelli. The Prince.

This does change the idea a bit, and draws attention more towards the necessity of dealing with problems early, rather than late.

While the nuanced difference is important, I think there is a great unity here. For my part, a blunder and putting something off till it’s too late are similar tunes.

What is interesting here is that Machiavelli offers no explicit guidance on how to avoid blunders, specifically, or how to not procrastinate, or some such modern, narrow obsession and click-baity topic.

Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. A great necessity is “we have a conflict at hand” or rather “a serious and meaningful problem to solve,” where, in both cases, the problem is getting bigger and will, if unaddressed, consume you. When those are your conditions, nobody Google searches “tips to stay focused.”

And this is the utility, in all circumstances, of this Machiavellian concept. When you are in an actual circumstance that you really want (Machiavelli was speaking to sovereign rulers, but your circumstance should be something like “live independently, without fear and with excess wealth,” or “run a profitable, growing, scalable company with a health debt to income ratio and ability to innovate and transition if and when necessary.” These are important circumstances, ones that are meaningful, and will likely inspire action to address any forthcoming conflict.

Yet, we often avoid conflict – challenge, obstacle, difficulty – and instead busy ourselves with something else. Some prepackaged bit of advice. Or rather find ourselves in another predicament of our own creation that we justifiably – meaning, people will agree with us – need to solve.

In other words, we avoid a battle over what we should know to be meaningful and voluntarily fight a battle over nonmeaning (or someone else’s meaning?) or make a blunder.

This happens in HR quite a bit.

We have a difficult to manage employee who is often rude and disrespectful. Rather than addressing this one on one and head on, we organize a department-wide presentation on professional conduct and communication. These decisions are usually made to protect the feelings of the offending individual.

What of the feelings of everyone else?

It’s not okay to blanket accuse people of wrongdoing for the actions of the few. It’s also not wise to take productive time away from your company on the basis of a localized problem.

This is a blunder made in order to avoid conflict. Notably, the conflict is still there, and likely more severe than it was before.

Instead of looking for ways to avoid mistakes, or finding solutions to lesser problems, dive into the biggest problem you have – the problem that is obvious to the person looking to build and fortify the thing(s) that they really want most. Every moment you don’t, the problems get bigger. All your other options are solutions to fictional problems or blunders.

My Politics

All information is part autobiography.

Thus, if I dare to write anything I necessarily convey a political view, as politics is the flower of personal philosophy, preference, perspective, etc. I would rather make a clear statement and have that understood than make no statement and thus be misunderstood.

So, I’ll tell you how I would vote

  • For President: whoever has a big bold vision that can inspire many, who is neither a revolutionary nor a tyrant, and who will appoint a team of John Adams-esque realists to Departmental and advisory positions.
  • For Senate: one liberal and one conservative. I advocate a 50/50 split Senate-wide. 10-year terms. One term limit.
  • For the House of Representatives: someone honest, honorable, and who is a local and always will be local, with the exception of their time in DC as an elected representative.
  • For the Judiciary: boring, experienced, textualists. Yes, I know you don’t vote for this, but I’m still stating my view given the increased attention on Supreme Court nominations. If you think we should not have textualists on the bench here is a test. You’re about to sign a legal document – do you want a textualist to interpret this? Or someone open to a wide range of legal interpretations?
  • Regarding Political Media: it should be nonprofit. Payscales should be legislated and made public like military payscales (and probably comparable to military payscales in terms of salary). Political speech should be detached from ambitions of wealth because if you offer a group of people a lot of money to say certain things, many of them will.

In Sum. I identify most closely with the 18th century Irish Whigs. Mainly Edmund Burke.