Why Warren Buffett Is Fundamentally Wrong About Bitcoin

I follow Warren Buffett’s investment advice. I admire him. I avidly watch his interviews. It was in an interview that I heard him talk about Bitcoin. Warren Buffett is right about nearly everything, but he’s fundamentally wrong about Bitcoin.

 

Here’s four things he said and why he’s wrong:

 

1. “When you buy non-productive assets, all you’re counting on is whether the next person is going to pay you more because they’re even more excited about another next person coming along, but the asset itself is creating nothing.”

 

Buffet is right. Bitcoin is a non-productive asset. But it’s not supposed to be a productive asset. Bitcoin is a new form of money. Ultimately, as money, Bitcoin will be judged by how it holds its value, but for the moment speculation also plays an important role (as we will see later).

So Buffet infers we should be holding productive assets. He’s right. Our portfolio should be mostly productive assets such as stocks. But does that mean he doesn’t hold any money at all? As Business Insider reported in August, Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway holds $111 billion in cash.

Are Buffett’s words or actions wrong?

 

 

2. “It’s buying something because you expect the pool of people who want to buy it, because they want to sell it to somebody else, will grow.”

 

This statement reflects Buffett’s greatness as an investor. How? Buffett never bought a company because he thought others would buy it later. Instead, he analyses a company’s intrinsic value and holds the stock. As his returns have shown, Buffett’s strategy works.

But his inference is wrong. He infers that people are fools because they’re buying Bitcoins only because they believe they can sell it to other (foolish) people later. There’s a lot more going on than a greater fools theory.

Buffett succeeds because he focuses on intrinsic value. This is exactly what Bitcoin investors are doing, but with a cryptocurrency instead of companies. They buy Bitcoin because they see it as a better store of value than fiat currencies, and even gold. They believe because it is an intrinsically better form of money, the world will adopt it as their new form of money.

That means the trillions of dollars worth of fiat currencies today could, at least in part, be replaced by Bitcoin. Bitcoin is absolutely scarce, unlike gold which can be mined and fiat currency which can be printed. The number of Bitcoins is fixed. That means as demand increases, each Bitcoin will be worth more. That’s the speculation Bitcoin investors are making.

Is that a crazy theory?

Jamie Dimon is CEO of JP Morgan Chase and a favourite CEO of Warren Buffett. He’s also been one of Bitcoin’s biggest critics. In 2017 he called Bitcoin a fraud.

Yet, as CNBC reported, “J.P. Morgan Chase announced in October the launch of a blockchain-based system that will “significantly reduce” the number of parties needed to verify global payments, reducing transaction times “from weeks to hours.” Royal Bank of Canada and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group are the bank’s partners in the project, called the Interbank Information Network.”

That “blockchain-based system” that Jamie Dimon launched – that’s Bitcoin’s underlying technology.

His system is trying to replicate Bitcoin by using Bitcoin’s technology. Except unlike Bitcoin, his company will have complete control.

J.P. Morgan’s move shows institutional faith in the underlying technology of Bitcoin. This indicates the Bitcoins speculators were correct in recognising the Bitcoin blockchain as a better form of money.

So, while Jamie Dimon says Bitcoin is a bad investment, his company is creating a competing tool that uses the same technology.

Shall we trust the CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase’s words or actions?

 

 

3. “You can have anything you want to imagine if you just look at something and say ‘That’s magic’. You can do it with sharks teeth or sea shells or anything. You know, they did it with tulips in the 17th century in Amsterdam.”

What does Buffett think the U.S. dollar is? You know, the thing he has 111 billion of. Money is valuable because other people value it. The U.S. dollar has no intrinsic value. You can’t eat it. It won’t make your car run. It’s valuable only as a medium of exchange and store of value. You know, just like Bitcoin.

And sure, the tulip bubble burst, but shells were useful money for thousands of years. Of course, some forms of money are better than other forms. But as J.P. Morgan Chase indicates, money based on blockchain technology may be better than the U.S. dollar.

 

 

4. “If you had bought gold in 1942 and you said we might lose the war and we might have to run off to some other country, let’s put our assets in gold, you would have less than a penny for every dollar you got from owning stocks. Now if someone calls that a store of value I think they’re delusionary.”

 

Again, Buffet is right. Over long time periods gold has been a terrible investment in comparison to stocks. However, the expected return of Bitcoin is not comparable to the return of gold from 1942. There’s a huge difference.

The difference is that in 1942, gold had been traded, mined, and used for thousands of years. The demand was slowly linearly increasing because people already owned it as jewelry, for industrial use, and as money.

But imagine if gold was first discovered in 1942? Demand would have grown exponentially and chances are that gold would have outperformed stocks.

Bitcoin was invented in 2009, not thousands of years ago. If people, organisations, and institutions continue to adopt Bitcoin as a store of value, or major banks use it as a daily settlement tool, Bitcoin’s value will grow faster than the market index.

 

Most speculators, critics, and traders don’t understand Bitcoin very well. Admittedly, I’m one of those people. But it’s clear, so is Warren Buffett.

 

Are You Feeding Your Readers Adderall Or Ambien?

Millions of people read books to help them fall asleep at night. This is unacceptable. Authors write to stimulate the reader. They want to be an Adderall tablet, but they’re an Ambien tablet. Something is wrong. But what?

 

1. Your kids are boring

There was a kid who was so obsessed with bodybuilders that he put pictures of them on his walls. That’s not that weird for an American kid in 2018, but this kid was in Europe in the 1960s. His mother called the doctor to the house, fearing her son was a homosexual. Admittedly, that’s kind of an interesting anecdote. But it becomes much more interesting when we learn that kid was Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Children only become interesting after they’ve achieved great successes as an adult. Just because you find your kid the most fascinating creature, doesn’t mean anyone else will.

Just because a topic is interesting to you, doesn’t mean it’s interesting to your reader.

 

2. Goliath was a sucker

If I were to retell the cliche story of David and Goliath you’d be bored. But if I added some details not everyone knows, it’s a thrill.

Goliath was indeed a giant, probably due to a hormonal issue. He was big, but that hormonal issue had affected his sight. Not that it would matter, David would have won even if Goliath had the eyes of a hawk.

In ancient warfare there were three types of soldiers. Cavalry, infantry, and slingers. Slingers were similar to archers, but instead of bows and arrows, they used a sling to fire rocks. Slingers weren’t expected to beat cavalry because the horses move too quickly, but they were always expected to beat infantry.

David was a slinger and Goliath was an infantryman. David should beat Goliath every time. Indeed, while Goliath was waiting with his sword, David slung a rock at him, knocked him out, ran over, picked up Goliath’s sword and killed him. That was to be expected.

Then why was it a surprise that David beat Goliath?

It was a surprise because David and Goliath were fighting one versus one, so their corresponding armies would not have to fight. In this situation, it was custom that an infantry member would fight another infantry member. It was a matter of honour. So why would David, the slinger, fight?

David had no concern for honour. He was a shepherd and they were considered the lowest of professions. He had no reputation to lose. So he felt free to break the tradition. And as a slinger he fought an infantryman.

It was not a surprise that David beat Goliath. It was a surprise he chose to fight him.

Details transform a boring cliche into an interesting anecdote.

 

3. Gangster Warfare better deliver

I recently read a book called Gangster Warfare. It didn’t disappoint. It was filled with bodies dissolved in acid, kingpins more powerful than their state, and a civilian uprising. The title delivered.

In comparison, there’s a best-selling book that was almost named Drug Dealing For Fun & Profit. From the title I would have expected a similar narco story to Gangster Warfare, if a little less dramatic. But the book wasn’t about drug dealing at all. It was about someone who built a business selling pre-workout stimulants (the drug dealing and profit part), and then outsourced his tasks so he had more free time to surf, dance, and travel (the fun part).

Luckily, Drug Dealing For Fun & Profit wasn’t the title that was used. Instead it became the uber-successful 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, which in fact, did go into minute detail about constructing a business where you only work four hours a week. It delivered on the title.

If people go in expecting a rollercoaster and get a train ride, they’ll fall asleep. Don’t oversell with the title.

 

4. Jesus was a badass

Jesus Christ was a badass. No wonder the Romans had such a problem with him. By saying he was the son of God, that he was God’s mouthpiece, he bought the authority of the Roman state into question. He looked up and said he followed a higher authority. He rebelled against the state. He gained followers, he turned water into wine, and was crucified. What an adventure.

If he had simply been a scholar who told us what to do, who would’ve cared? It’s because he took risks and had an enemy that he was interesting. He was a rebel, not a religious scholar. That’s why the Bible became the world’s bestseller. It’s a book filled with wild stories of seas parting and hellfire. Steven Spielberg couldn’t have done a better job.

If it’s boring to write, it’ll be boring to read. There’s a reason students skip their lecture to watch Game Of Thrones. Don’t lecture. Take us on an adventure.

 

If authors want their readers to stay awake until the early morning, they have two options. The first is for every new book to come with a free bottle of Adderall. The second is to cut out everything boring and take the reader on an adventure.

Why I Was Wrong About The Palestine-Israel Conflict

Like so many people, I’m outraged by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s shameful.

 

And like so many others, I know my views are correct. The other side is wrong, not me. My feelings are shared by hundreds of millions of people. The weird thing is, they’re shared by both the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine supporters.

 

Yet, most of these people are like me. They aren’t Israeli. And they aren’t Palestinian. They have no family involved in the conflict. Yet, we share a moral outrage.

 

Are we angry because we’re reasonable and rational moral individuals? Or is something deeper going on?

 

Underneath our outrage

Maybe we’re not as moral as we think. In the Moral Animal, Robert Wright explores the science of evolutionary psychology. Here are four revealing quotes:

 

  1. Our emotions evolved because they helped our genes survive

“Sympathy, empathy, compassion, conscience, guilt, remorse, even the very sense of justice, the sense that doers of good deserve reward and doers of bad deserve punishment—all these can now be viewed as vestiges of organic history on a particular planet.”

 

  1. Morals are an excuse for political action

“…a moral code is a political compromise. It is molded by competing interest groups, each bringing all its clout to bear. This is the only discernible sense in which moral values are sent down from on high—they are shaped disproportionately by the various parts of society where power resides.”

 

  1. What seems morally right to us, is actually only right for our genes survival

“What is in our genes’ interests is what seems “right”—morally right, objectively right, whatever sort of rightness is in order.”  

 

  1. In essence; people use morals to gain and retain power

“…moral discourse, political discourse, even, sometimes, academic discourse—are by Darwinian lights, raw power struggles.”  

 

Our moral sense stems from what is best for our genes survival and replication. So, our moral outrage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may not be based on what’s objectively right, but on what supports our tribe.

 

Can this really be true? Are our morals nothing more than subconscious tools of our genes?

 

What’s this got to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Why would our genes care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? We’re not a risk from the bombs and bullets. And we have nothing to gain.

 

So what’s going on?

 

In part, our brains of today were developed when all social interactions within our tribe determined our level of food, sex, and protection. If our tribe liked us, we (and our genes) survived. Today, our empathetic brain is being hijacked by images of wounded children and crying mothers. These images won’t determine the food or sex we get, but our ancient brains don’t know that.

 

But there’s more going on, and it’s linked to virtue signaling. Robert Wright helps explain the term “introjection”:

 

“Absorbing the values and traits of others, including powerful others—may be a way of cozying up to a high-status person who “distributes status and rewards to those who support his beliefs.”

 

But we don’t only use our morals for inducing good-will from high-status people. We use them to build friendships. And what’s that got to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

 

Wright explains, “One of the strongest bonds two friends can have—the great starter and sustainer of friendships—is a common enemy.”  

 

While we have no direct interest in the conflict, we use it to score points with our friends and political compatriots. It’s a way for us to bond. But while the bombs and bullets land on our TV screens, they explode on their homes. We bond, they’re bombed.

 

What should we do?

The answer to what we should do became obvious to me when I was visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City. You’re probably aware that state-sponsored art, like this museum, becomes a tool for state propaganda. That’s why the CIA supported Jackson Pollock’s modern art during the cold war – so on all fronts the U.S. appeared superior to the Soviets (clearly another CIA action with disastrous unintended consequences – the rise of modern ‘art’).

 

While the first half of Mexico City’s modern art museum was filled with dangling ropes and other nihilistic modern art, the second half was filled with exhibits focusing on the evil three-lettered American spy agencies; the NSA, CIA, and FBI. Ruthless as America’s secret agencies may be, this moral outrage towards America is blinding visitors from a far more subversive problem in Mexico.

 

There’s a museum in Mexico City that is banned to the public, including Mexican citizens. The Narco Museum. It’s filled with everything from gold-plated automatic weapons to mountains of methamphetamine.

 

The Mexican government’s moral outrage is directed towards America, rather than the drug war in their own country. Over 20,000 people are murdered every year. Kids are dissolved in acid. Politicians are either corrupted or murdered. The police work for the cartels. That’s their real problem. Yet, they focus their outrage on the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

 

Their outrage is similar to millions of people who express their outrage at the Israeli-Palestinian war. They focus on the actions of people they can’t influence, while simultaneously neglecting their own problems within their control.

 

We should not interfere with the injustices in the Middle East. We should address the injustices in our own life. There are kids in their twenties worrying that the Palestinian refugees don’t own a real home, yet they don’t own one either. They should redirect their efforts towards the economic challenges in their own countries. Or even better, study engineering and earn a home themselves.

 

It’s not heroic to be outraged at something far away (no matter how many retweets or likes you receive). There is no cost for you, you sacrifice and risk nothing.

 

It’s easier to condemn a dictator in a distant land than stand up to our own tyrannical boss. It’s far less painful to condemn a soldier for shooting a child, than to condemn ourselves for that third bowl of ice-cream. We appear as angels compared to the devils of war.

What if I’m wrong?

Maybe I’m wrong. But that doesn’t change what we should do. We should still focus on our own life. If you actually want to influence the Israeli-Palestinian conflict beyond a retweet,  you first need real power of your own.

 

Consider the story of Sam Zemurray, the banana man. He was a poor Jewish immigrant in America. He didn’t spend his time focused on his moral outrage, he focused on building a banana business. His focus was so intense he became more successful than the monolith that was United Fruit. And having focused on himself and his company his entire life, when the time came, he was in a position to influence the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

In 1948, the UN would vote to decide whether to recognise Israel as a country. The Arab states didn’t want to recognize the Jewish state. The western countries did. As a result,the South American countries held the balance of power.

 

It was at this moment that Sam Zemurray influenced history. Using his contacts and money, he phoned presidents across South America. Through persuasion and bribery, he convinced many to either swing their vote in favour of Israel or to abstain. His phone calls gave his Jewish people an internationally recognised state.

 

Perhaps the modern millennial feels they have as much control over their own lives as they have control over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. House prices are high. Jobs are low. Millenials have no hope. This is bullshit. And self-defeating. Sam Zemurray had no education and got his start selling the bananas others would throw away. If he can turn trash into one of the most powerful companies in the world, surely a millennial can overcome a tough job market and a pricey housing market.

 

You may stay out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because you recognise your moral outrage may be misplaced. Or you may stay out of the conflict because, like Zemurray, you want to focus on building the power that can truly influence the conflict. Either way, your actions will be the same; you’ll focus on your own life.

 

We can apply this tribal moral outrage to many modern phenomena. Trump, Hillary, radical feminism, toxic masculinity, gangsters, banksters, and other trend-worthy topics. But imagine if people diverted their energies to correct their own problems, before focusing on the apparent wrongness of others. Wouldn’t that be more moral?

How To Earn Fuck You Money (Yet Why You Don’t Need It)

The Power Mrs Nader & Peter Thiel Share

We think financial independence protects us from the big-bad-world. But it’s the same illusion a 3-year-old has thinking their security-blanket protects them from the big-bad-wolf. Even when your financial independence protects you from an evil corporation’s long line of litigation-loving lawyers, they find other ways to attack you. They will slander you in the press.

 

“Bring it on,” you say? They were warming up. They’ll go after your family. As Nassim Taleb explained; “General Motors, in the campaign against Ralph Nader (who uncovered flaws in their products), desperate to stop him, resorted to harassing Rose Nader, his mother, calling her at three in the morning–in the days when it was hard to trace a telephone call. Clearly it was meant to make Ralph Nader feel he was guilty of harming his own mother.”

 

We’ve been talking about financial independence. But there’s another kind of financial status you dream of: fuck you money. If financial independence is the bodybuilder who feels tough, fuck you money is the martial artist who is tough. Peter Thiel is an entrepreneur and investor who was a founder of PayPal and the first major investor in Facebook. I don’t know if Thiel practices martial arts, but his money has a black belt in judo, jiu-jitsu and kickboxing. His fuck you money is earning fuck you money in interest.

 

As Ryan Holiday described in his book Conspiracy, Thiel’s wealth helped him destroy a media empire. Thiel took offence when a scandalous blog, part of the appropriately named Gawker empire, outed him as gay. True as it was, Thiel felt they invaded his privacy. But he didn’t act like the financially independent and start a war of words. His real fuck you money would speak louder than any Twitter fingers ever could. Thiel waited, with his lawyers in the wings, until Gawker slipped. Gawker published a private sex tape of wrestler and American icon Hulk Hogan. Thiel secretly funded Hogan’s lawsuit. The lawsuit won, Thiel bankrupted the Gawker empire. Gawker slipped. Thiel made sure they fell.

 

We think it’s only the elite Peter Thiel’s of the world that can stand up to corporate bullies. Mrs Nader shows us we’re wrong. Her story continues, “It turned out that Rose Nader was herself an activist and felt flattered by the calls (at least she was not left out of the battle).” Rose Nader didn’t have fuck you money. She had a fuck you attitude. Fuck you money promises comfort when adversity arises, while a fuck you attitude promises the ability to handle the discomfort of adversity, even relish it. Everything you think fuck you money promises you in the future, a fuck you attitude gives you right now.

 

The empire destroying fuck you that Thiel delivered, rested upon a foundation of decades of living with a fuck you attitude. When Thiel began working at a prestigious law firm, he said fuck you to the typical career path of an ivy-league graduate. He quit. His attitude continued. This time he quit managing a successful hedge-fund to to say fuck you to the very financial system he was part of. He founded PayPal. If he never said the early fuck you’s and took the risks of leaving his law firm and hedge-fund positions, while we can assume he would have made many millions and achieved financial independence, he wouldn’t have earned the billions that helped him destroy Gawker. Those who get real fuck you money, take the risks with a fuck you attitude long before getting the money. The attitude comes first, the money follows. With a fuck you attitude, you’ll find you don’t need the fuck you money. But you’ll be more likely to get it.

If You’ve Stolen Food From Hostel Fridges; You’re A Petty Thief

What to do about the food-thieves who are ruining travel and civilisation

Before traveling I was dreaming of Machu Picchu, hollow waves, and jungle treks. Now I’ve been traveling and living in hostels for 7 months, I’m dreaming of catching someone in the monstrous act of stealing my food.

 

I open the hostel fridge to get my six eggs for breakfast and there’s three left. My bag of almonds is gone. The chicken legs I was saving have walked off.

 

What’s going on? Who are these people who think it’s okay to steal? What happened to the notion of travel teaching us how to live amongst others? To respecting people? By the amount of food that is stolen, the opposite appears to be true.

 

Like everyone else in a hostel, I stay there because I don’t have lots of money to spend, including on food. This much is obvious to anyone stealing food from a hostel.

 

Yet they steal. What makes this worse, is it’s entirely unjustified. More often than not, there’s a box of free left-over food they can select from. Or cheap food to buy a few minutes walk away. Yet they steal.

 

It’s lazy. It’s immoral. It’s shameful they don’t have the decency to respect other people’s property. Petty theft is for petty people.

 

You might be thinking what’s the fuss over a few eggs. After all, it’s a shared fridge and a person’s label may be hard to read. But people know what isn’t theirs. Do these people steal the same items from a supermarket? Are they leaving a one-legged roast-chicken on a supermarket shelf? Are they stealing a car because it’s more convenient and cheaper than a taxi? No, no, no. Just because you can do something, doesn’t make it okay.

 

We could all do things that aren’t fair to those around us. We could drive more recklessly. Turn up to meetings late. Swear in front of young children. But what kind of world would we create? More so, what kind of person would we become?

 

Is it ever okay to steal food? What about if you’re really hungry? Firstly, you don’t need food. The body can last days or weeks without food. More to the point, if you didn’t organise food, that’s your fault. I’m not your mother. If you can’t afford food, stay home or eat rice and beans. Don’t pass your problem onto someone else.

 

And no. Passing on the food you didn’t use doesn’t make up for the food you stole. Just because you leave behind that weird flavoured yoghurt you didn’t want, doesn’t make it okay to steal someones lasagne. And no. Just because someone stole your food, doesn’t make it okay for you to steal someone else’s. Life’s unfair, don’t make it more unfair.

 

So what to do if someone steals your food? You could easily ignore the misdeed. But Friedrich Nietzsche understood the problem; “Sympathy for all would be tyranny for thee.” So if you see someone stealing food, call them out. Stand up for the majority of us who don’t steal food, even when we’re hungry. Of course, you could always lace your food with something unpleasant. But petty revenge would be lowering yourself to their level of petty theft.

 

Okay, now, what if you’re the culprit? A food-thief? Well, you probably hate me already. But since you’re here, I’ll give you my advice.

 

So what should you do if you’re a food-thief? Have some self-respect. You’re a petty thief. Petty. Your actions are making someone else worse off. Yet you probably feel bad about it. That’s no fun. Buy some food or go hungry. Your morals are more important than your stomach. The choice between self-respect and a quick snack is no choice at all. As Epictetus says, “It is more necessary for the soul to be cured than the body; for it is better to die than live badly.”

 

The most frustrating fact about food-thieves, is that they’re probably overall good people. They know better. After all, you know better. So in conclusion, thank you to everyone I have lived with who didn’t steal my food.

 

And don’t worry, I’ll be sure to update you when I finally catch someone stealing my food.

What Is An Essay? (Yoda & Montaigne Disagree)

The Meeting Of Minds

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… the wise Jedi Master from Star Wars, Yoda, is sitting with the wise writer and philosopher from the 16th century, Montaigne.

Montaigne begins writing an essay. At the top of his blank sheet of paper he writes, “What is an essay?”

He thinks. But cannot find the answer. Yoda is watching him struggle. His lip curls into a smirk. Their gaze meets. Montaigne says, “Ok, you tell me, what is an essay?”

Yoda pauses for a moment. Finally, he responds, “Two answers, I have for you… writing on a particular topic, a short piece of, I would say.”

Montaigne says to Yoda, “You said you have two answers, what is the other?”

Yoda responds, “Do or do not, there is no try.”

Montaigne begins writing. He finishes his essay and looks up at Yoda. He smirks.

 

An Attempt To Answer “What Is An Essay?”

Open the Oxford dictionary to the word essay and you read; a short piece of writing on a particular topic. Yoda is correct. But why did Montaigne smirk?

The word itself – essay – originally had a different meaning. It has today’s dictionary meaning thanks to Montaigne. Montaigne earned his place in history books, not only because of what he wrote, but how he wrote. For Montaigne, writing was an act of exploration into the unknown. He was searching for truth. Posing questions and trying to answer them.That’s Montaigne’s secret: Trying. ‘To try’ is the essence of an essay. And ‘to try’ was the literal translation of ‘essay’ in the 1600s.

Sure, the body of an essay is indeed a short piece of writing on a particular topic. But the heart of an essay is trying to answer a question or explore a topic.

 

5 Quick Tricks To Improve Your Writing In 5 Minutes

Improve your writing immediately with these 5 tactics

Everyone has moments where they need to write something important, whether they want to or not. But not everyone practises their writing daily or considers themselves a natural.

Maybe you have to write a proposal, an important email, a business plan, or even a new website for your side-project.

It’s easy to dismiss yourself and say, “This is going to suck, I’m not a writer!” but it turns out there are some quick tricks you can use, that don’t take years of practice. They only take 5 minutes.

As Blake Powell said (and shows us with his constant articles and popularity on Medium), “You’re capable of being a creator. Of moving others with your words and generating limitless potential with your being.”

So here are five easy-to-apply tactics that will immediately improve your writing.

 

1. Make it about them.

As Nicholas Epley wrote, “Galileo may have removed the Earth from the center of the universe, but every person on this planet is still at the center of his or her own universe.”

Often when people write, they focus too much on themselves.

For example, which would you rather read?

Me focused: I am happy to inform you that we have reviewed your application and approved your loan.
You focused: Congratulations! Your loan has been approved. You can now purchase your new home.

 

Me focused: We have shipped your order today.
You focused: You will receive your order on Wednesday.

 

Me focused: 10 Ways I Increased My Sales
You focused: 10 Ways You Can Increase Your Sales

 

Clearly, the ‘you focused’ sentences are better. Why? They focus on what the reader cares about. As the motorcyclist, software manager and writer Kris Gage said, “It’s not about what you feel — it’s how you make THEM feel.”

 

How do you make sure your writing is focusing on what the reader cares about?

  • The easiest way is to use you, you’re, and your throughout your writing. It forces you to take the reader’s perspective.
  • Ask yourself a question. Why would the reader care? Your answer is what you should write.
  • Dale Carnegie wrote, “The only way to influence people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.”

 

HOWEVER, there’s one instance when you shouldn’t focus on the reader. When you’re being critical. That’s why the second sentence of this section is, “Often when people write, they focus too much on themselves,” rather than “When you write, you focus too much on yourself.”

Why is this caveat so important? The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it. Not using the word ‘you’ when criticising something protects your reader’s ego.

 

2. Shorten your sentences.

Long sentences are boring. Short sentences hold our attention.

 

Let’s take some quotes about short sentences from professional writers. First, I’ll rewrite them as if they were one long sentence. Then I’ll post what they actually wrote. You’ll be able to see how much better using shorter sentences is.

 

  1. Scott Adams

Rewritten as one long sentence: Write short sentences by avoiding multiple thoughts in one sentence because readers aren’t as smart as you think.

 

What he actually wrote: “Write short sentences. Avoid putting multiple thoughts in one sentence. Readers aren’t as smart as you’d think.”—Scott Adams

 

  1. Theodore M. Bernstein

Rewritten as one long sentence: The argument is sometimes advanced, ‘What difference does the length of the sentence make so long as it is clear?’

But clarity is not the sole criterion; the important thing is ease of comprehension and small blocks of meaning are more easily comprehended than large ones, after all, a quart of gin is perfectly clear, but you wouldn’t try to drink it all in one draught.

 

What he actually wrote: “The argument is sometimes advanced, ‘What difference does the length of the sentence make so long as it is clear?’

But clarity is not the sole criterion; the important thing is ease of comprehension. And small blocks of meaning are more easily comprehended than large ones. After all, a quart of gin is perfectly clear, but you wouldn’t try to drink it all in one draught.”—Theodore M. Bernstein

 

  1. Ryan Holiday

Rewritten as one long sentence: When I was writing I tried to keep my sentences short and make my revelations big and exciting because I wanted people to leave with important and actionable sound bites.

 

What he actually wrote: “When I was writing I tried to keep my sentences short and make my revelations big and exciting. I wanted people to leave with important and actionable sound bites.”—Ryan Holiday

 

When you find you’ve used a long sentence, break it into two short sentences.

 

HOWEVER, while you should mostly write short sentences, you can’t fall into the trap of only writing short sentences of the same length.

 

Here’s a demonstration:

 

Consider this five word sentence. Now try two of them. Five word sentences work individually. But too many become lifeless. It’s getting boring isn’t it?

 

I better change. The ear demands variety. Always. Now, by varying the sentence length it becomes much more engaging and holds your attention. It flows. It’s rhythmic.

 

Why? Predictability is boring. Variety is interesting. So I’m combining short sentences with medium length sentences. And now that you’re engaged, I can deliver a longer sentence, explaining that we prefer diverse sentence length because it is most similar to how we usually communicate; by speaking.

 

3. Don’t lecture. Tell a story.

Nobody likes to be told what to do. It’s the same with rebellious 2 year olds as it is with grumpy 102 year olds. We don’t like to be lectured to. As Jason Toff said, “Telling a good story is everything.” We love them.  

 

Plutarch lived and wrote around 2000 years ago. His writings heavily influenced Shakespeare, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Montaigne. He is still widely read today.

Why is he still popular 2000 years later? What’s his story?

 

As Sarah Bakewell wrote;

 

> If Plutarch wants to tell us that the trick in living well is to make the best of any situation, he does it by telling the story of a man who threw a stone at his dog, missed, hit his stepmother instead, and exclaimed, ‘Not so bad after all!’

 

Plutarch doesn’t tell us how to live. He shows us in a story. And so we learn.

 

Personally, I’ve learnt more about finance from the writer Nassim Taleb than all my lectures from my finance degree. Nassim Taleb makes finance and statistics fun. Here’s how he describes his approach; “I will not drive the reader into a dull college-lecture-type predictable journey, but rather into the type of adventure I’d like to have.”

 

Safexpress is a logistics company in India. Consider whether a lecture or story they can tell is more powerful:

 

The Lecture: Safexpress is an excellent logistics company. 98.84 percent of our deliveries arrive on time. What does a CEO of a multinational company say about us? “We’ve used Safexpress for all our deliveries in India and we’ve found them to be an excellent service provider.”

 

The Story: Safexpress had handled the release of the fifth Harry Potter book—every Potter book in every bookstore in India had been delivered there by Safexpress, an insanely complicated delivery: All the books had to arrive in stores by 8 a.m. on the morning of the release. Not too early, or the bookstore owners might try to sell them early and the secret would be blown, and not too late, or the bookstore owners would be irate at lost sales. Also, the Potter books needed the same piracy protections as the studio’s films—there could be no leaks.

 

Don’t tell. Show.

 

4. Delete unnecessary words to keep it simple.

You know how people say a picture speaks a thousand words? Well, the 5 right words say more than 500 wrong words. A guiding principle is to avoid sounding smart and instead make your readers feel smart.

 

Here’s what some writers have to say:

 

“Simple writing is persuasive. A good argument in five sentences will sway more people than a brilliant argument in a hundred sentences. Don’t fight it.” — Scott Adams

 

“The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.”

— Henry Green.

 

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” — Stephen King.

 

So what words should you delete?

  • Jargon, technical language.
  • Adverbs. You never need very. For example, people aren’t very happy. They’re ecstatic.
  • Say the same thing with fewer words. Rewrite a 10 word sentence in 5 words. Delete the extra words.
  • Light verbs such as make, do, have, put and take.

 

The linguist Steven Pinker helps us understand why we should avoid light verbs. Consider the light verbs make and put. By using them we get the phrase:

> Make an appearance in Romeo and Juliet; and

> Put on a performance for Romeo and Juliet.

Instead we can write:

> Appear in Romeo and Juliet.

> Perform Romeo and Juliet.

 

Pinker also highlights ‘There is’ and ‘It is’ as words that indicate an opportunity to delete unnecessary words. For example:

There is competition between groups for resources

works just fine as- Groups compete for resources.

 

However, the amount of abstraction (jargon) you can use depends on your readers. If you’re writing for a magazine that is only read by high-level computer programmers, then you can use computer jargon. However, when considering your audience, it’s better to assume too little than too much as you will ensure everyone has a clear understanding of your ideas. It is better to include than alienate.

 

5. Use online grammar & spelling checkers.

Grammar is boring. I know, I know, I know. But the businessman George Horace Lorimer tells us why it matters; “… But it isn’t enough to be all right in this world; you’ve got to look all right as well, because two-thirds of success is making people think you are all right.”

 

Furthermore, correcting your grammar is difficult. When people read their own writing, they read what they wanted to say. Not what they actually wrote.

 

Getting someone else to read over your writing helps. But they’re not always available when you need them. Or they’re not word nerds.

 

That’s why online grammar checkers are so helpful. They help you catch mistakes you would otherwise not see.

 

My favourites are;

 

These 5 quick tricks will immediately improve your writing. They’re not to be memorised, but rather used as a checklist. Whenever you’re writing you can refer to it and immediately improve your writing to land a proposal, make a great speech or even a wedding toast. So Get going. A military veteran, writer of the novel Living On Empty, Jordan Robison said, “The best advice is just to write.”

Enjoyed these tips? Then you will love this post: 7 Practical Tips for Cheating at Design by Adam Wathan & Steve Schoger. It’s a similar guide, but for design instead of writing. It inspired this post.

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