How Can You Become Better At What You Do?


Friday, 8.59pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A tool, to paraphrase George Polya, is a trick I use twiceSanjoy Mahajan

Mahajan, in his book Street-Fighting Mathematics, writes how the best teachers say little and ask much because questions, discussions and wonder help you learn so much better.

Learning maths, however, seems relatively straightforward.

As the most purely intellectual subject there is Maths doesn’t have to deal with emotion and mess and life.

Or does it?

You could argue instead that the application of maths is fundamental to modern life and everything we do can be done better with maths.

William Shakespeare mused about the gap between thought and action – and how it was filled with uncertainty and doubt.

He was talking about Brutus’ decision to murder his friend Caesar but I’m thinking about it more in the context of using software more effectively.

For example, many years ago when I was reading about marketing I came across Neil Patel who, on his blog at Quicksprout, created long, in-depth content to help you learn how to market better online.

And he made it simple and step by step. If you followed his instructions, opened a spreadsheet, entered in lots of keywords, came up with topic ideas, created a content schedule and worked every day you could also possibly end up like him.

Which sounded great, but didn’t work for me.

Partly because I really don’t like working hard, especially at something that really should be done by a computer.

The principle was right – we need to create content because that’s how the world will find us and, perhaps more importantly, how we will find ourselves, but his method didn’t work for me.

The tool wasn’t right.

Now, the tool that I use that does work for me is perhaps ridiculously specialised.

I use a text file filled with thoughts and ideas and use a markup syntax to identify important ones and the ones that should go into the diary.

A program then extracts what’s important and creates a content calendar for me.

I get involved in the messy thinking and let the computer create the structure and framework and order.

So, this is one of the challenges of going from thought to action.

We can have our eyes opened to principles but it’s only by trying stuff out ourselves that we can really learn and figure out whether we’re happier with a hammer or a chainsaw or just getting someone else in to do the work for us.

Now really, where I wanted to go with this post was to talk about where we get these principles from in the first place.

And one good source is shareholder letters.

Most people are familiar with Warren Buffett and his letters, which are hosted on a site that is so unconcerned with fancy design that it remains a precious corner of the Internet.

Charlie Munger’s letters are worth reading as well and Jason Zweig suggests a few more worth reading and these from Sardar Biglari are worth a look as well.

Reading these letters gives you a look into how people who have made a career making decisions make decisions – how they look at and examine situations.

And, often, how they use maths to explain what has happened and what they want to make happen.

So, to really make the most of a situation it seems to me we need to use better principles and questions, to really figure out which tools are right for us to get better at what we do.


Karthik Suresh

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