The Long Game 20: Lambda School for Health & Wellness, Progress Studies, Moats, Brain Drain, Emotional Literacy

📡 The Future and Science Fiction, Ideological Coherence, Battle in the Himalayas, VIP Parties, Matter, and Much More!

Hi there,

Greeting from Paris 🇫🇷

If you missed the past episodes, you could catch up here.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Lambda School for health and wellness

  • Emotional literacy

  • The Brain Drain

  • Moats

  • Progress studies

  • The future and science fiction

Let’s dive into it!

This is not a picture of Paris (although it would be cool!), but just an image that I particularly liked this week (source: nasjaq)


🥑 Health

🎓 Lambda School for Personal Health & Wellness

Recently, I wrote about why a Strava for Health could be a game-changer to get more people to pay attention to their health and engage in preventive long term measures.

Although the community of people interested in health and longevity is growing rapidly, there’s a huge part of society that’s still far from those considerations. Most people still can’t afford to invest in their health and personal wellness.

That’s where the playbook of Lambda School could enter. For those not familiar with Lambda School, it’s a 30 weeks computer science immersive program that’s free until the student gets a job. I’ve read Brett Bivens describe Lambda School for personal wellness, and I can’t stop thinking about it ever since.

There are a number of studies that indicate the impact more exercise, better sleep, proper nutrition, and better mental health have on an individual’s long term earning potential and my anecdotal experience suggests that I am contributing most towards my own long term economic impact when I am healthiest and most active.

The idea is simple: people perform best in their life when they reach optimal health & wellness. The problem is that most people can’t afford to take time for themselves.

With Lambda School for Health and Personal Wellness, people enrolled in the program would be coached and assisted until they improve various aspects of their wellbeing. The school would get paid once the person receives a higher salary and a better life.

Innovation and new technologies are essential to fuel progress. Still, business model innovations are also great as they enable the distribution of known methods and technologies to other groups of people.

If we want to push the limits of what’s possible in terms of health and wellbeing, we have to make sure we take everyone on the journey.


📊 While we’re talking about health, I’ve recently started the Health Optimization & Longevity Community — a community of people committed to reaching better health and longevity, at scale. If you’re into these topics, fill in the form or respond to this email to join the group!

The Community


🌱 Wellness

🌞 Emotional Literacy and Granularity

Wellness is all about finding ways and practices that are going to help us feel good.

The first step to wellness must always be a clear understanding of the emotions we have. This understanding can be developed through our education, and it can be seen as a skill.

Emotional granularity means that a person can identify and communicate a variety of different instances of emotions. It’s a crucial skill to develop because emotions signal what’s going on in the world and our body.

Emotional literacy and emotional granularity are the meta-skills above everything else regarding wellness and self-understanding. A great way to make sure you don’t misinterpret your emotions is to be aware of the wide range of emotions. The most precise you can get in your understanding of yourself, the better you’ll be at finding solutions to your challenges.

I like to cultivate my emotional literacy with this emotion wheel. Notice, for example, that sadness goes from boredom to guilt. So, instead of saying “sad,” a more granular expression would be to find whether it’s boredom, loneliness, depression, despair, abandonment, or guilt, and go even more in-depth on the wheel.

This wheel is cool, but here’s something better: a messier version of this wheel with audio descriptions for every emotion. 🔊


If you enjoy this newsletter, make sure to subscribe if you haven’t!


🧠 Better Thinking

🤯 The Brain Drain

The purpose of technology is to make our life better and to solve problems by reducing scarcity. Over the last 100 years, technology improved exponentially. Most of the tools we use today were invented less than a few decades ago.

When it comes to cognitive capacities, the influence of technology on people is particularly interesting to study.

There’s obviously a lot of good; smartphones give us access to all of the world’s information in a few seconds; they help us stay connected, find locations, and much more.

The question now is whether there is a revenge effect where we lose control and end up without the benefits technology was intended to create.

By many metrics, technology keeps making our lives better. We live longer, healthier, richer lives with more options than ever before for things like education, travel, and entertainment. Yet there is often a sense that we have lost control of our technology in many ways, and thus we end up victims of its unanticipated impacts.

We covered The Social Dilemma in last week’s episode, and it seems we can’t deny anymore that technology has a lot of detrimental aspects.

I wanted to learn more about this, so I read this paper called: Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity.

Although these devices have immense potential to improve welfare, their persistent presence may come at a cognitive cost. In this research, we test the “brain drain” hypothesis that the mere presence of one’s own smartphone may occupy limited-capacity cognitive resources, thereby leaving fewer resources available for other tasks and undercutting cognitive performance. Results from two experiments indicate that even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention—as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones—the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity. Moreover, these cognitive costs are highest for those highest in smartphone dependence.

It shows a revenge effect happening with smartphones, and people should be aware of it. Companies like Facebook and Google monetize our attention, so it wouldn’t be realistic to expect them to initiate measures to help us get our attention back. Still, Apple is doing some work in the right direction.

For example, with the new iOS 14 widgets, you can get your screen time on the homepage.

As you can see, I spent way too much time on Twitter this morning! But at least I’m aware of the problem now. 😅

The bottom line is that the skill of mastering your attention and your focus will be the most critical skill of the century. We should be aware of it and create systems that help us get the most out of technology while reducing the unintended consequences.

If this is something you’re struggling with, the work of Nir Eyal (Indistractable) and Cal Newport (Deep Work) could help you on this front.

We all understand the joys of our always-wired world—the connections, the validations, the laughs ... the info. ... But we are only beginning to get our minds around the costs. — Andrew Sullivan


⚡️ Startup Stuff

🏰 Find your Moats

There has been a lot of discussions lately about moats in the business world, both at the company level and at the personal level.

To find your personal moat, the question: “What is hard for others but easy for me” is an important one. It should be something that compounds over time, and that’s hard to achieve. It can either be by specializing on a topic, or by being a generalist and being the best at the intersection of multiple issues (think Tyler Cowen, Tim Ferriss…).

For more on personal moats, check out the excellent article by Erik Torenberg about this.

For a company, a moat will be different advantages the company has to stay successful over the long term and deter potential competitors from entering the market.

Jerry Neumann wrote an excellent piece to evaluate these moats systematically in the context of starting a company.

Below is a taxonomy of the most common moats, organized by these sources.

It’s sporadic for a startup to have a strong competitive advantage from the beginning, and in most cases, a company must build its competitive advantage over time.

The two moats that I found particularly interesting to study are:

The tacit knowledge of a company: It’s happens when people know how to work together, understand all the processes and the whole thing works seamlessly. The only problem of this moat is that it takes time to build, so startups need to find something else to deter competition.

The organizational routines of these companies are a difficult to replicate advantage because they are not describable in words, in any deep sense, and they are not held within the head of a single person.

The returns to scale: The benefits of scale are numerous, and once the virtuous cycle has started, it yields tremendous returns, but once again, it’s not accessible to new players.

So what are new players left with? It seems we’re entering a new age of how startups grow.

Julian proposes some interesting ideas to respond to the question. The founders building in public seem to be ideally positioned to build moats early on.

One thing is sure if you’re in for the long game, building a moat has to be part of the plan.

If a startup is to become a valuable self-sustaining company it must eventually have a moat. Building one must be part of their strategy.


📚 What I Read

⛪ Ideological Coherence

I came across this article: How to Win an Election. It explains how talking (or not talking) about specific issues can make or break a candidate. What concerned me, however, is the concept of ideological coherence that forces politicians to think about identity instead of thinking about the best way to fix an issue.

If you decided to create a survey scorecard, where on every single issue — choice, guns, unions, health care, etc. — you gave people one point for choosing the more liberal of two policy options, and then had 1,000 Americans fill it out, you would find that Democratic elected officials are to the left of 90 to 95 percent of people. And the reason is that while voters may have more left-wing views than Joe Biden on a few issues, they don’t have the same consistency across their views.

This is important because it shows that people aren’t polarized naturally, but because of a political landscape that pushes people on the extremes.

This idea echoes Paul Graham’s essay on the two types of moderates:

There are two distinct ways to be politically moderate: on purpose and by accident.

📡 The Future and Science Fiction

Last week, I started watching an episode of Black Mirror, and it got me depressed just after a few minutes. I’m tired of seeing this dystopian future and all the ways technology could ruin society. I tweeted this, and I received an unexpected amount of positive responses. I’m not the only one to feel this way.

The idea is that sci-fi movies are essential to help us imagine a future we want to live in and contribute to building. With the right films and media, we can push more people to work and solve the big problems of our time (energy, climate, longevity, space…)

For example, watching Interstellar makes you insanely optimistic and full of energy regarding space exploration. In the words of Balaji Srinivasan:

We need an entire Netflix original library's worth, a parallel tech media ecosystem full of inspirational content for technological progressives. A lifetime's worth of content that makes the case for immutable money, infinite frontier, artificial intelligence, and eternal life.

As Peter Thiel famously said: “We wanted flying cars. Instead, we got 140 characters.”

Someone in the thread suggested Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman. The idea that I liked from the book is that we have the wealth and the ability to improve our world radically, but we lack the imagination to believe in this achievable utopia.

We should take this pandemic as a warning and an opportunity: the opportunity to accelerate progress and innovation to be up to the challenges of the century.

For more about building the future, What Happened to the Future by the Founders Fund and the classic IT’S TIME TO BUILD by Marc Andreessen are great calls to action.

I asked for recommendation of good (and optimistic!) sci-fi books, let me know if you have something to suggest!


🍭 Brain Food

👠 The Secret Economics of a VIP Party

I enjoyed reading this piece by Ashley Mears, author of Very Important People that we already covered in The Long Game 5. The VIP world is very interesting because it follows an entirely different set of rules.

Here’s a little trailer of the article:

The visual tropes of this world are familiar even to non-VIPs: angular cheekbones, Louboutin heels, sprays of champagne. What most people don’t realise is that the apparently spontaneous abandon of those extravagant nights is, in fact, painstakingly planned. It takes a carefully hidden, intricate economy, based on a complex brokering of beauty and status, to create an atmosphere in which people will spend $100,000 on alcohol in a single night. This economy’s currency is young women. The leggy blondes who surrounded the millionaire that night in Miami were not there by chance.


🎥 What I’m Watching

🏔 Geopolitics of the Himalayas

I just discovered the Youtube channel Caspian Report. I’ve been binge-watching his excellent work on geopolitics. I liked this one on the Turkey/Greece conflict, this one on the Kosovo situation, this one on the China/Iran pact, and this one on Europe’s plan to checkmate Russia.

The video below is about the conflict between India and China in the Himalayas. It’s fascinating to understand how these two giant countries try to get the upper hand on each other.

I’m very interested in China and India, as they will undoubtedly be two of the most significant powers of the century. Right now, India is less powerful than China and is struggling to find the appropriate response to China’s actions.

This excellent piece by Shashi Tharoor on why India should constrain and not contain China is an ideal complement to the video to understand the situation fully.

“Quietly certain that its economic, military and geopolitical strength will continue to grow relative to India’s, China continues to creep forward.”


🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week

🚂 Progress Studies in 2020 with Jason Crawford — Venture Stories

Progress and innovation are what’s going to solve the problems of our societies and this conversation is a great way to understand why progress studies are so important, and it gives a great overview of Jason’s work at The Roots of Progress.

I liked Jason’s answer to the ‘optimism or pessimism’ question:

You can combine descriptive pessimism with prescriptive optimism: we are facing a huge challenge, but we can overcome it.

Jason also covers all of the potential ways we could improve the funding of scientific research. The idea would be to split the NIH in multiple agencies.

The conversation was so insightful, I took some public notes 👇👇

Read the full notes


🔧 The tool of the Week

📱 Matter — A Social Reading App

Matter is a social reading app where you can find articles to read shared by people you follow. I like it because it focuses the experience on one vertical (reading) on the opposite of Twitter, for example. Greg Isenberg wrote about unbundling Reddit; Matter is an excellent example of how you could unbundle the reading/sharing feature of Twitter.


🪐 Quote I’m Pondering

Change is hard, but delaying what’s right is toxic. Today we can remember just how much we have to do and realize the ability each of us has to see and alter the systems around us. Not simply today, but every single day. A chance to make things better.

— Seth Godin


If you enjoyed this newsletter, make sure to subscribe if you haven’t 👇


👋 EndNote

Thanks for reading!

I will see you next week. As always, if you’re finding this newsletter interesting, give me your feedback; you can respond to this email or tweet at me!

If you’re an existing reader, I would deeply appreciate it if you share this with people who would find it a valuable resource. You can also “like” this newsletter by clicking the heart just below this, which helps me get visibility on Substack.

Share The Long Game by Mehdi Yacoubi

Have a great day,

Mehdi

Leave a comment