in: Career & Wealth, Podcast, Wealth

• Last updated: November 14, 2023

Podcast #942: 10 Unchanging Ideas for Navigating an Ever-Changing World

To figure out what will happen in the future, we typically make guesswork predictions and look to particular periods in the past that seem like potential parallels.

My guest says that to figure out what will happen next, and how best to navigate that coming landscape, the best things to consider are those that have been true in every time, and will be true until the end of it.

Morgan Housel is a venture capitalist and the author of Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes. Today on the show, we talk about ideas and principles that never change that can help you be successful in an ever-changing world, including how the biggest risks are those you can’t see, how the idea of compound interest applies beyond your finances, how your expectations can sabotage your happiness, why you need to learn to accept that things are supposed to be hard, and how success can lead to failure. Morgan also shares his rubric for choosing your reading, what genres of books he finds most useful for improving long-term thinking, and two books he especially recommends for broadening your perspective.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast, to figure out what will happen in the future We typically make guesswork predictions and look to particular periods in the past that seem like potential parallels. My guest says that to figure out what will happen next and how best to navigate that coming landscape, the best things to consider are those that have been true in every time and will be true until the end of it. Morgan Housel is a venture capitalist and the author of Same As Ever, A Guide to What Never Changes. Today on the show, we talk about the ideas and principles that never change, that can help you be successful in an ever-changing world, including how the biggest risks are those you can’t see how the idea of compound interest applies beyond your finances. How your expectations can sabotage your happiness. Why you need to learn to accept that things are supposed to be hard, and how success can lead to failure. Morgan also shares his rubric for choosing your reading, what genres of books he finds most useful for improving long-term thinking and two books He especially recommends for broadening your perspective. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at All right, Morgan Housel, welcome back to the show.

Morgan Housel: Thanks so much for having me back. Appreciate it.

Brett McKay: So you got a new book out called Same As Ever, A Guide to What Never Changes. In the Introduction of this book, you note that Jeff Bezos says that he’s often asked what’s going to change in the next 10 years and that he says, “I almost never get asked the question, what’s not going to change in the next 10 years? And then he says, and I submit to you that the second question is actually the more important of the two. Why is the question or the answer to the question, what doesn’t change more important?

Morgan Housel: So much of this just came from my experience. It kind of led to cynicism in the financial industry of how bad we are at forecasting as a whole, industry forecasting the next recession, forecasting the next bear market, or even like in politics, who’s gonna win the next election? We’re terrible at it. We’re absolutely abysmal at it. And so there’s two things you can do with that in sight. One is you can become even more cynical and just say, nobody has any idea what the future’s gonna hold. Or you can kind of take the Bezos approach and just say, look, let’s just focus on what we know is not going to change what is just an innate part of human behavior that has been happening for hundreds of years and will continue to happen hundreds of years from now. And so often, I love history, I love all kinds of history, and it’s so common that whatever you’re reading, no matter what the time period is, no matter what the country is, that you see all these common denominators of how people behaved a hundred years ago, 200 years ago.

And you’ll say to yourself, you’re like, oh, that’s exactly what people do today. Particularly my, background is all in finance. So if you look at how people responded to the Great Depression, or even some of the big stock market declines in the 1800s, it’s exactly the same way it is today. It’s overconfidence that leads to panic. Like none of those things change. So let’s take that and say like, look, nobody knows where the stock market is gonna go next. Nobody can predict that, but we know exactly how people respond to greed and fear. We know exactly how people become overconfident. We know exactly how people panic at the wrong periods of time. ’cause that’s always been like that. So let’s focus on that if we’re gonna have some sort of vision of the future, rather than pretending that we know what is going to change.

Brett McKay: Right, By focusing on the things that don’t change, you increase your chances of success. Even in the face of setbacks. You have a great quote from Naval Ravikant where he talks about there’s a thousand parallel universes and you want to be successful in 999 of them.

Morgan Housel: That’s right.

Brett McKay: And the way you do that is you focus on the things that probably won’t change in any of those parallel universes.

Morgan Housel: That’s it. That’s it. And like by doing that, you’re almost, you’re going out of your way to remove luck and chance and serendipity out of the equation. And you just wanna situate your life and go about your life day to day so that you are doing things and focused on things and paying attention to things that you know are gonna be part of your future. And then luck and serendipity will play its role on its own. But rather than assuming that, oh, because this person was very successful, this person got very rich and trying to figure out how they did it, what was their secret? By and large, those are things that cannot be replicated by you or anyone else or even themselves because they were specific to one time period. But if you’re focusing on the things that never change, you give yourself the highest chance of being successful.

So let me just give you like one quick example of this. If you were looking at Warren Buffet as somebody to look up to, there are a lot of different things that you could take away from his success. But how he picked stocks and the exact stocks that he picked, you know, back in the 1960s and ’70s. You can’t replicate that today. But can you replicate his patients and his endurance? Like Yeah, probably. So that’s something that is worth paying attention to rather than all the other things that you cannot replicate or, and by the way, like he can’t even replicate those things.

Brett McKay: Oh, so big picture. What are the types of things that don’t change? It sounds like it’s human behavior is what you’ve been focusing on.

Morgan Housel: That tends to be it, there’s a quote that I use at the start of the book from Voltaire, a very old quote where he says, history never repeats itself, but man always does. And that’s really it. It’s like these, like the details of history always change. So like, compare the Great Depression to 2008, the details are totally different. ’cause we had derivatives, we had all these kind of like new financial instruments, the details were different, but man never changes. So how people respond to greed and fear, that never changes. So yeah, it, tends to be these innate parts of human behavior that keep happening over and over again.

Brett McKay: Got you. So in the book, you explore 23 different ideas that never change. In the first one you explore that big events, the big events in life are often the result of tiny, random and unforeseeable events. And you share a personal story that brings this idea home to readers. Can you share that story with us?

Morgan Housel: Yeah. So I grew up as a competitive ski racer in Lake Tahoe, California. And ski racing is an interesting sport. It’s obviously not baseball, football, basketball. It’s, one of those weirdo sports that people don’t pay that much attention to. And one of the things that’s kind of quirky about it is that most ski racers who get serious about it view high school as a nuisance that gets in the way. So I, and all my other, ski racing friends doing this, we more or less bypassed high school. We did this independent study program that led us ski six days a week, 10 months a year, and it was great. So I grew up with about 12 other ski racers on the Squaw Valley ski team, and we had known each other since we were children. We skied six days a week.

It was a pretty awesome childhood. And one day in February of 2001, myself and two of my, best friends, Brendan Allen and Brian Richmond were skiing. And we used to ski out of bounds quite a bit, which if you’re not familiar, that’s when you duck under the ropes that say do not cross. And because that’s where you get some of the best skiing, it’s untracked. You get the place to yourself. So we did this quite a bit, and when we did it, we would often get, you know, there’s no chairlift at the bottom when you ski out of bounds. So we would often ski out to like a back country road and then we would hitchhike back. When we were doing this back country skiing during this day, we triggered a very small avalanche. It was not that big.

It probably like came up to our knees and it ended pretty quickly. It wasn’t that big a deal. I remember when we got down the bottom, we kind of like laughed and high fived about it. It was like, oh, that was cool, A little avalanche, you see that? Brett and So we, hitchhiked back to the mountain and Brendan and Brian wanted to do that run again. They said, Hey, that was great. Let’s go do it again. And for whatever reason, I think it was probably the hitchhiking is what always freaked me out. I didn’t wanna do it, so I said, Hey, Brendan and Brian, how about you guys Go do that run again. And rather than hitchhiking, I’ll drive my truck around to the pickup spot on the back country road and I’ll pick you two up. So that’s what we did. We went our separate ways.

Brendan and Brian went off, went up the chairlift to go ski another run, and I went back to my truck to drive around the mountain to pick them up. 20 minutes later, I get to our pickup spot and they were not there. And I didn’t think that much of it. I think, you know, we didn’t have cell phones back then, so people were very comfortable being out of communication. It was normal to not know where somebody else was. And I didn’t think that much of it. I eventually left. I realized that they were not coming. I think I waited 20 or 30 minutes and I was a little bit concerned, but I did not think anything that bad. But the day went on, the hours went on, and later that day, Brian’s mom called me at home and said, Hey, Brian didn’t show up for work today.

Do you know where he is? And I told her the truth. I said, we, all skied outta bounds, backside of Squaw and I was gonna pick them up, but they never showed up and I haven’t seen them since. And Brian’s mom, who was an expert skier herself, is an expert skier herself, I think kind of pieced together in that moment what may have happened. And I did as well. More hours went on. We eventually got the police involved. We did a missing person’s report. The police didn’t take it very seriously, but we eventually got search and rescue involved and search and rescue went on the mountain at about midnight and it was still a blizzard. It was like gusting winds and snow in your face. They had these giant portable search lights and search dogs and these giant pro poles. And they went looking for Brendan and Brian at midnight and at about 9:00 AM the next morning after they’d been searching for, nine hours at that point, a team of search dogs kind of homed in on a spot where we had been skiing and it, had been a massive, massive avalanche field.

The rescuers found, the search and rescue team found this enormous avalanche debris field from what was clearly an enormous avalanche that had taken place the previous day. And the search dogs kind of honed in on the spot and rescuers with pro poles, these giant pro poles to search down found Brennan and Brian buried under six feet of snow in the avalanche field. And they were dead. Of course. And I always have to preface this story by saying like, I know that everyone listening to this and you Brett have lost somebody close to them. I know I’m not unique in this. Maybe the details were unique, but they had, of course a huge impact on me. I was 17 at the time, so were, Brendan and Brian were 17 years old. And one of the things that, it took me a while to really piece this together, but was the fact that if I had gone on that second run with them, 100% chance I would’ve died as well.

And these are two people that I had been growing up with skiing, and I skied with them that morning and then I declined a second run. And of course, the initial trauma and still the trauma and the pain today is losing them. But it was just always like, maybe it was some form of survivor’s guilt of being like, gosh, the most important decision that I ever made in my entire life to this day was not taking that second run with them. And then you realize how fragile life is. Because I did not really contemplate that decision to not do it with them. I didn’t weigh the pros and cons. It was not a risk adjusted, it was just a random decision, Hey, why don’t you guys go, I’m gonna stay back. And that was the most important decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

So that’s just an example of how fragile the world can be. We spend a lot of time forecasting risk, thinking about risk, thinking about what’s in front of us. The truth is, is that most risk just comes from this just completely out of the blue. No nothing decision that you thought you made. And that turns out to be enormously consequential. And there’s a lot of examples like this in history of just a little tiny thing that somebody did that seemed like the most benign decision ever, that utterly transformed all of history. And so once you realize how fragile history can be even in your personal life or throughout the broader world, you become much more humble in your willingness and confidence to predict what’s gonna happen next in the future.

Brett McKay: Well, related to this idea is that the biggest risk in life are the ones we don’t see, right? Like the avalanche risk, you knew it was there, but you didn’t know that it was gonna happen that one time when you decided not to go.

Morgan Housel: Yep.

Brett McKay: You use the example of the Great Depression as a perfect encapsulation of this idea that the biggest risks are the ones we don’t see. Walk us through that idea.

Morgan Housel: I did an interview with Robert Shiller from Yale University a few years ago, and Shiller won the Nobel Prize in economics for his work in, behavioral finance. And part of his, academic career many years ago was working with economic historians to find one person, show me one person who predicted the Great Depression and they can’t find one person, not a single person. There were people who said, the economy is overextended, there’s gonna be some sort of a pullback, but a depression where unemployment goes to 25% and lasts for a decade. Nobody predicted that. Not a single person saw that coming. And people were pretty well informed in the late 1920s. It wasn’t that everyone was oblivious, it was just people knew what was going on. They had all the data. But the chain of events that led from the stock market crash of 1929 to the depths of the Great Depression in 1932, ’33 was so unpredictable the number of things that had to happen.

And in hindsight, it all makes sense. You see the craziness of the 1920s, and in hindsight it’s like, of course that was the outcome, but it was not it, that was not obvious to literally anybody in 1929 that this was in front of us. So that’s another example of like the biggest risk is what we don’t see coming, because today in the year 2023, there are very smart journalists and economists looking at all the risks in the world and saying, here’s the biggest risk. You know, we have big budget deficits, inflation war in the Middle East, et cetera, et cetera. And if history is any guide, and of course it is the biggest risk of the next year, of the next five years, of the next decade, is something that nobody, not myself, not you, not anybody is even aware of today. And think about the last 20 years. I mean the, biggest risks of the last 20 years were September 11th and COVID. And that, you know, those are the events that move the needle the most. And the common denominator of those events is that nobody saw them coming until virtually the day that they happened. And so I think it’s, always been like that and it always will be like that.

Brett McKay: So how do you prepare for risk that you can’t see?

Morgan Housel: I think there is some truth that by definition you can’t. And that’s, I think that’s the right answer, that’s the hard answer. But if there is any kind of like, okay, well what, can you do? I’ve often thought for financial matters, at least the amount of savings and liquidity and safety cushion that you should have in your personal finances should feel like it’s a little bit too much. It should make you wince a little bit because when it feels like it’s too much, then at least you have a fighting chance to prepare for the risks that you cannot even imagine, that you can’t even envision. And if you are only saving for the risks that you can envision, the risks that are obvious to you, then by definition you’re gonna miss a surprise 10 times out of 10. And so I think most people on average probably don’t have enough safety and liquidity because they’re only thinking about the obvious risks. They’re not planning for the 911s, the COVID, the Pearl Harbors that come out of the blue and do the most damage specifically because nobody saw them coming.

Brett McKay: So You should have, some slack and slack is inefficient and people don’t like inefficiency, but that’s gonna make you more efficient when bad things happen.

Morgan Housel: You know, it’s generally true historically that on average roughly once per decade, the world breaks once per decade There’s a massive event in the world where you wake up one day and you realize the world is not the same place anymore. COVID was that 911 was that World War II, the Great Depression. It’s usually been like that. And during that one moment per decade, the excess slack, the capacity, the cash that you have in your savings is gonna become the most valuable asset that you’ve ever had in your life.

Brett McKay: So another idea you explore is how our expectations can determine our happiness. And you start off by looking at how we romanticized the 1950s as this golden era in American history, but then when you actually look at the reality, it wasn’t as good as we remember it. What’s going on there?

Morgan Housel: I think there’s a lot of reasons people love to think about and romanticize and become nostalgic for the 1950s. One of the reasons is obviously just because the, 20 years that preceded it in the Great Depression in World War II were so awful for so many people that any sort of peace and prosperity in the ’50s just felt amazing by comparison. That’s a big reason. But I think a lot of, like one of the other factors that went on here in the 1950s of why it felt so good and it felt like the golden age of middle class prosperity is because for a brief period of time, the distribution between rich and poor, the level of income inequality in America got very low. There were not billionaire hedge fund managers, there were no CEOs making $50 million a year. It just, by and large did not happen in the 1950s.

And that was really important. It did something very important to people’s mindsets, which is that there’s no such thing as an objective level of wealth. Everything is just relative to other people. Whenever you’re trying to figure out how rich or poor you are, you just compare yourself to people around you. And in the 1950s, most Americans could look at their neighbors, their coworkers, their siblings, their friends, and say, Hey, relative to them, I’m doing pretty well. I’m probably doing about as well as they are. And so that made people feel great, even if statistically they were not that well off, even if statistically they were on average substantially poorer than the average American is today even adjusted for inflation. They felt better because relative to other people, they were closer in circumstances. And I think what has happened over the last 80 years or so is that on average we have become not only wealthier, but way wealthier, higher incomes, higher net worth, better medical care, higher life expectancy, but we don’t feel it because our expectations have risen by even more.

So if your income doubles, but your expectation triples, you feel worse off, even if statistically you are doing twice as good as you were before. So that’s, a big point. I think it’s true that if your expectations rise faster than your income, you’ll never be happy with your money. And that has been true forever. Like one common thread in history is that, you know, particularly for the last 200 years or so, things tend to get better for most people, most of the time. Of course there are lots of exceptions, but for most people, most of the time things get better, you become more prosperous. But are people actually happier for it? By and large the answer is no. Because with prosperity you just ratchet up your expectations. So think about what we have today that did not exist a hundred years ago, penicillin, Advil, sunscreen, like all these like absolute basic necessities that we consider necessities today that would look like magic to somebody a hundred years ago. But people just.

Of course, they just take those for granted, there’s this is quote that I love, that says, “Man has an infinite capacity to take things for granted.” It’s kind of a sad realization, but it’s very true that with progress tends to come arising a rising expectations that kind of levels out the happiness that you gain from that progress.

Brett McKay: How do you counter that?

Morgan Housel: I think at the society level, like at the broad level, you can’t. It’s always been like that. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective that people don’t just want to become wealthy, they want to become wealthier than their peers, because that’s how you compete for a spouse, a mate, job opportunity is whatever it is, it doesn’t matter how much you have. It just matters how much you have relative to other people who you’re competing with, is what really matters, so I think at the broad level, there’s nothing you can do about. At at the individual level, I do think it’s possible to at least at the margins, realize the game that is being played and realize that if you don’t go out of your way to manage your expectations with as much emphasis as you do improving your circumstances, you’re never gonna be happy.

And don’t be surprised when you work your entire life and get a bunch of raises and get a bunch of big bonuses and you’re not any happier for it. And so I think going out of your way to manage your expectations with as much emphasis as you do, improving your circumstances is absolutely essential if you want to become not just wealthy, but happy with the wealth that you accrue.

Brett McKay: Yeah, okay, so focus on the absolute numbers instead of comparing yourself. If you got a million dollars in the bank like, That’s awesome, but don’t start worrying oh, that guy’s got three million, I gotta start doing more. Another principle that stood out to me was, people don’t want accuracy, they want certainty. How does that play out in the world?

Morgan Housel: It definitely plays out with commentary online and news, and when people are listening to their favorite pundit. By and large, you don’t want a pundit who is right, you want a pundit who makes you feel better, and there’s a core componentry where if you tell people what they want to hear, you as a pundit can be wrong forever without penalty, because when people watch a political forecast or a stock market forecast, really what they want is to reduce the uncertainty that they have in their head that is causing them some amount of pain and anxiety, ’cause everyone I think intuitively knows how uncertain the world is, it could go this way, it could go that way. And that uncertainty hurts. It’s not very fun.

But so when you find somebody who says, Hey, I actually know exactly where the stock market is gonna go next, I know exactly who’s gonna win the presidency, I know exactly how the world’s gonna play out, we latch on to that because it instantly reduces the uncertainty that we have in our head, even if we intuitively know that what they’re saying is bullshit, and so there’s a very long history of that, and I think it plays a role in an enormous degree in investing in politics, of people just latching on to the person who is pounding the table with the most certainty, even if how the world actually works is a lot of nuance and gradation and working in probabilities without certainties.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I’ve read, and I think you talk about this in the book, that when it comes to certainty, people who… In the investment world who are permabears who are always constantly saying, Oh man, the economy’s gonna crash, there’s a tendency for people to take that person more seriously ’cause that sounds smart compared to the person who is optimistic about the future, ’cause if you’re wrong, that the economy is gonna crash, well, no one really cares, ’cause everything’s fine, but if you’re wrong saying everything is awesome, and then everything turns out to not be awesome, you don’t like that guy.

Morgan Housel: It’s definitely true, that historically optimism makes you sound kind of aloof and detached and not very smart, and pessimism makes you sound smart. Pessimism always sound smarter than optimism, if I were to say, Hey, there’s a Great Depression coming, stock market is gonna crash 90%. You going to lose all of your money, most people will sit up in their chairs and pay attention to that, but if I were to say, Hey, I have a stock that’s gonna double in the next year, a lot of people would be like, that sounds like a sales pitch, you’re pulling my leg. I don’t believe that. And again, from an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that people are more attuned to threats than opportunities, because you have to survive the threats in order to benefit from the opportunities, so we’re always gonna be more attuned to the pessimism than we are the optimism. The irony though is if you are a student of history and you know people’s ability to solve problems and become more productive, and for in a capitalistic society for that to accrue to you as an investor, you should be an optimist, like your default assumption should be optimism, even if the pessimism is so much more seductive and will capture your attention in ways that optimism never, well.

Brett McKay: How have you learned to get more comfortable with uncertainty?

Morgan Housel: I think for me, it’s just been a massive room for error in my finances, but I think… Actually, I think the honest answer to that question is, I don’t know if I have. I think I’m prone to anxiety as much as anyone else, and it was really interesting, and for someone like me who writes about this stuff professionally, to experience March of 2020 and the start of COVID, that was the intense lockdown month, the stock market fell 40% during that period, and I didn’t sleep very well, during that period, it was like, even if you know what the right response is to do, once you’re in the trenches, so to speak, everyone I think is kind of naturally hard-wired, the cave man part of their brain is to be anxious and uncertain about parts of the world that you don’t understand. That’s a survival mechanism. So in some ways we can, I can, but I think having some degree… I think a core to a lot of this is just basic humility, the humility that we have no idea what’s gonna happen next, and once you have that, then I think your willingness to try to predict goes down and you become more comfortable with saying like, Look, I need to situate my life so that if the world goes this way, I’ll be okay, and if it goes that way, I’ll be okay, if my career goes this way, it’ll be okay, but if it goes that way.

I’ll figure it out too. It’s less reliance on just a single path planning and more just like, Look, I need to have Plan A, B, C for virtually anything that can happen in the world.

Brett McKay: So I think people understand the power of compound interest, but you talk about how this power of compounding plays out in other areas besides money, where else did you see this besides finances?

Morgan Housel: But I think you see it in lots of places, one of the areas you see it is in people’s individual careers, where there’s kind of two paths to take your career, one that a lot of people will do is they’ll work at a company for one year and then move to the next company, work there for a year, and then the next company work there for a year, and that’s not necessarily bad, I’m not criticizing that, but another way is to try to find a great employer and stay there for your entire career or stay there for 10 or 15 years before you move to another company, and in the ladder, you get compounding of networks of institutional knowledge of how that company works versus in the former when you are jumping to a new company or a new field every year every two years. Every time you do that, you kinda have to reset your social network, your peer network, the institutional trust that you have built up at that employer, and then… So those benefits do not compound, whereas the people who might stay at one company or at least in one field for a long period of time, those things do start to compound, and I think the huge majority of time that you see somebody in their profession and they’re so good at it.

And you watch them, you just say, How do you… It looks effortless. How do you do that? The answer to that question, how do you do that? Is usually somebody saying, I’ve been doing this thing in this chair for 20 years or more, that’s usually the answer, because all those skills just started compounding, and the people who are jumping around never get that compound interest in their career.

Brett McKay: What have you learned to mitigate the desire to keep switching to different things so that you can get that compounding effect, what have you done in your own life?

Morgan Housel: Well, I’ve been a writer writing about the exact same thing for 17 years [laughter] so and in some ways, and I think that’s really benefited me, is that not only have I been a writer for 17 years, I’ve been writing about just behavioral finance and virtually nothing else for 17 years. And so when you do that, just the amount of stories that you pick up along the way, the anecdotes that you pick up along the way, the learning what kind of writing style works and what doesn’t work, there’s the only way that you can learn stuff like that is just through not only experience, but years or decades of experience, and so I think in my own life, it’s been really beneficial. Now, this is not to say that if you start a new career at age 22 and you hate it, that you shouldn’t leave, or if you have an employer that sucks, you shouldn’t find a new employer, it’s not to say that whatsoever, it’s just a recognition that there is so much benefit in terms of compounding, just sticking with one thing and using years or decades of hard fought experience to gain that knowledge and that skill.

Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors.

And now back to the show, another principal you talk about is that there’s a competitive advantage to imperfection, and we kind of touched on this a bit earlier, so what are the downsides of chasing complete optimization?

Morgan Housel: It seems like intuition that people would say like, Oh, you want to be as efficient as possible, and there’s definitely like this efficiency fetish among businesses, we want to become as lean as possible, as efficient as possible. One example of how starkly this backfired was in 2021 when supply chains were really broken, you had at that time, more consumer demand for things like new cars and washing machines than virtually ever before, it was like a record amount of demand, but those car companies and those washing machine companies could not keep up with it because their supply chains were so “efficient” that they didn’t have any slack in them, and all those companies would have been so much better off financially if they had slack in their inventory, if they had parking lots filled with unsold cars, they had the slack in their inventory so that when demand change, they could respond to it, but because they had spent so many years just saying, just in time inventory, we’re only gonna stock the exact number of cars that we are capable of selling over the next two days, it was like such a tight efficiency supply chain that when demand increased a little bit, the whole system fell apart, the whole system virtually collapsed.

And so that’s like one example of if you have a little bit of room for error and slack and you go out of your way to not be efficient, There’s actually a tremendous amount of value in that. Tim Ferris, who of course wrote The Four-Hour Work Week in I think 2007, he had spoken about this recently, I don’t want to put words with his mouth, and I want to make sure I’m getting this mostly right at least, but that he’s gone out of his way to become in the last couple of years to be less efficient in his life, there’s actually a lot of value in being less efficient and just kind of like letting your day play out as it’s gonna play out and letting serendipity hit you in the face when it wants to once in a while, rather than having everything perfectly scheduled, at 9 o’clock, I’m gonna do this, at 11 o’clock, I’m not gonna do that, there’s actually a tremendous value to just like free floating around and seeing what happens, and you only do that when you recognize the value of an inefficient life.

Brett McKay: Yeah, so you can do this in your personal life with your cash savings, so instead of having all your money allocated in some investment, it’s good to have a good amount of cash in a savings account somewhere, and you might think, Oh my… That’s just a big waste. I could be investing that and getting compound interest, but you might need it, like an emergency could pop up or there could be an opportunity where if you had cash, you could jump on that opportunity, and then you can also do this with your time in your book you talk about being willing to set blocks of your day where you’re not doing anything, you’re not being productive, because that can open you up to new opportunities, that’s when you get new ideas when you’re not doing anything.

Morgan Housel: Yeah, I think how you schedule your day is really important, that a lot of particularly like the type A super ambitious people will want to schedule their day to get the most out of it, and I think that is by and large a mistake if you have just several hours a day of unstructured think time on your schedule, you will find that in hindsight, those will be the most productive hours of your day, because good ideas rarely come when you’re sitting at your desk and you’re like, Okay, 9 o’clock is my hour to come up with a good idea that usually doesn’t happen. Most good ideas come when you’re going for a walk, you’re in the shower, you’re at the gym, it’s these unstructured kind of free-floating times when you let your mind wander, that creativity really starts to spark. So particularly, if you’re in a creative field, I think the more creative your field is, the less structured you want your day, the more open you want your calendar, even if that feels inefficient, that’s when the good ideas are actually gonna strike you.

Brett McKay: Well, the other problem with scheduling your day to the hour, you create sort of a just in-time inventory problem for your day, ’cause if one thing gets messed up, it screws up your whole schedule, like there’s people who… They want to get to the airport like just the right… Means they don’t want the… To wait that long. If the traffic happens, they’re gonna miss their flight.

Morgan Housel: That’s it. I’m gonna knock on [0:31:22.3] ____ I’m a frequent traveler, I’ve never missed a flight in my entire life, and I fly virtually every week because I have a ton of room for error, and you could say, Look, every time I fly, I’m wasting an hour that I could have been at home, that I’m just kinda hanging out at the airport, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest because at least for the work that I do, missing a flight could be catastrophic. And so those hours that I’ve wasted. The other thing is, I don’t view them as wasted hours, ’cause when I show up to the airport early, I listen to a podcast, I walk around, airports are the best spots in the world for people watching, and so it doesn’t bother me in the slightest so if you can actually figure out how to utilize those “wasted hours” to actually gain some productivity and just have a lone time to think in your head.

Brett McKay: Another idea that really hit home to me was, it’s supposed to be hard. What can Jerry Seinfeld teach us about this principle?

Morgan Housel: This is there’s a great story of Jerry Seinfeld talking with David Letterman. They’ve been friends for decades, and Letterman was asking Seinfeld about the early days of Seinfeld, the show, the Sitcom Seinfeld. And during that period, like Jerry had all these comedy writers that were supplied by NBC, and David Letterman says something like, Hey, are those writers a huge help, are they great at writing material? And Jerry says, Not really. They’re okay, but they’re not that good. And David Letterman says like, Oh, why, that’s interesting. They’re not that good. Why? And Jerry said, Wouldn’t it be strange if they were all great, wouldn’t it be strange if 20 just like run-of-the-mill writers could come in and write the most brilliant hilarious… It’s supposed to be hard. Of course, they can’t come up with a genius every single day, it’s supposed to be hard. I think this is really true in investing as well, where there’s all these statistics that everybody knows about, 90% of active fund managers can’t beat the market, they under-perform their benchmark, and that is usually used as a statistic of a failed industry or like, Oh, the industry is a scam.

My response is always like, Of course, it’s that way. What world would you want to live in, or what a world do you think you live in, in which everybody who tries to beat the market can do it? Of course, 90% can’t do it. It’s supposed to be hard because the rewards are so great, just like everybody can’t get into the NBA, it’s supposed to be hard. That’s like the reason that it’s hard is Why It’s enjoyable to watch. These are the best people in the world. So I think just understanding the cost of admission and the price of success for anything that you do is really critical.

Brett McKay: And you say that this idea that it’s supposed to be hard can help you put up with parts of your job you don’t like, how so?

Morgan Housel: This is there’s a quote from Jeff Bezos, that is like really stark, but I think it’s true, he says, If you can enjoy half of your job, if 50% of your job can be enjoyable, That’s about as good as it gets. And no matter what you’re doing, whether you’re the CEO of a big company or an entry level worker, there is always gonna be at least 50% of your job that feels like capital W will work. It’s just labor. You don’t want to do it, you don’t want to go to this meeting. You don’t want to do this data entry, you don’t… That’s part of it. That’s part of it. There is no job in the world, and that is 100% fun, and I think people who say they enjoy 100% of their job are probably covering for something, I think there are so few exceptions to this that’s hard, and Particularly if you are ambitious and you want a big job, you want a high paying job, then that ratio that Bezos is talking about is like if you can enjoy 20% of it, 10% of it, you’re probably doing pretty good, so I think just that acceptance of the cost of admission, The price of success is really important.

Brett McKay: I think that quote really hit home with me because I think there’s this idea out there that if you love your job it won’t ever feel like work, there’s that quote that says, Find a job you enjoy doing, and you’ll never work a day in your life. But every job is still a job, even even if you’re doing creative work, there’s gonna be parts of your job that just stink, it’s just… It’s work.

Morgan Housel: Yeah, this is not just like an artistic fulfillment, by and large, you are working to support your family, to support yourself, it’s work, it’s labor, and we should recognize how lucky we are today that historically 95% of people, the work that they did was manual labor and farming and today, it’s roughly, I forget the exact statistic. 70% plus of jobs are considered service jobs, something in that range, so we are very fortunate today that the kind of work that most people do is physically easier than it used to be, but I think it’s still, or if not even more mentally difficult and generates anxiety and uncertainty and what not, than it’s ever before. And you’re never gonna get rid of that. There’s never gonna be a time of like, Oh, once I get this promotion, then it’s gonna be smooth sailing, it’s not how it works, these careers are supposed to be difficult, that’s why they can be rewarding. And so that’s, I think that’s important for anything that you do in life, and by and large, it’s true for relationships, like marriages take work, and if people don’t believe that they should get their divorce papers ready.

Of course it’s hard, of course it takes work and sacrifice, and of course it does, and once you accept that price of admission, then you realize that the price is worth paying, that the rewards are great, but it’s the people who don’t realize that costs that get themselves into trouble.

Brett McKay: My wife and I have an inside joke. We worked at Jamba Juice together when we first got married and we were in college, and so we just made smoothies all the time, just but not in this… Making smoothies, making strawberry wild smoothies. And we have a joke now with our job, there’s certain tasks that are just like… It’s just monotonous, boring. Even though we do a lot of creative stuff… Right. Do podcasts, whatever. There’s parts of the job we just… It’s called smoothie making is like, Oh, what are you doing? I’m making smoothies today, and it’s just, it’s doing the grunt work of the job, you never get rid of that stuff. No matter what you do.

Morgan Housel: Yeah… It’s really true for parenting as well before you’re a parent. It’s easy to imagine what it’s gonna be like and it’s gonna be, oh, reading my kid bedtime stories, doing arts and crafts, playing baseball. And yes, there is that, but 90% of parenting is picking up Mac and Cheese from the floor, changing diapers, dealing with screaming kids. That’s 90% of it. Like 90% of it is not that pleasant. But by the way, back to my last point, it’s worth that cost of admission. If you can deal with the food stains and the dirty diapers and whatnot is well, well worth the cost of admission. You just have to recognize what you’re getting yourself into before you start.

Brett McKay: But the trick with this is trying to figure out the balance of how much crap you’re gonna put up with and figuring out the reward to it. So how do you develop that ability to identify the optimal amount of hassle and nonsense you have to put up with something to get ahead in life, because sometimes it’s not worth it.

Morgan Housel: I don’t know if there’s a formula for it and it’s gonna be different in every situation. So rather than trying to say like, what is the optimal amount, I think you can flip it over and just say, it’s just realizing that there’s going to be some of it. There’s gonna be some, like if you have no capacity to deal with inefficiency and nonsense and rude people and delayed flights, if your capacity to deal with that is zero, you’re gonna have a very difficult life. And I think, again, there’s no formula, but I often think in my life, I’m just making this number up. I’m like, you need to have a 20% capacity for your life of just bullshit of 20% of what happens in your day. And in your year is gonna be things where you’re like, ah, really? I gotta deal with this? I got a flat tire, I got a meeting I gotta go to. I gotta deal with this silly nonsense. That’s life. 20% capacity for dealing with BS on a day-to-day basis.

Brett McKay: Right. The silly nonsense. That’s something that never changes. Never gonna change. You also talked about how competitive advantages, they usually end up dying at some point. Why do most competitive advantages die?

Morgan Housel: There’s lots of reasons. The biggest and most important one is that success makes people lazy and happy, so to speak. And then the fear and anxiety that created the success that drove them into action dissipates as they become successful. And then their success is cyclical. They were scared and anxious which drove them to success. Once they were rich and successful, that anxiety went away. And once the anxiety that made them successful goes away, they begin their decline. So that cyclicality of success, you see it everywhere at the individual level, at the corporate level, even like the nation level, you can see that. You see it in the United States. And so realizing that most competitive advantages die makes you more aware of what it takes to succeed. And just going out of your way to ask a question, what is my competitive advantage?

A lot of people will assume that their competitive advantage was intelligence or some level of skill. And sometimes that’s the case. That’s usually at least some part of it. But for so much of this, whether it’s in sports or careers or relationships, what made you successful was fear. You woke up scared every morning and that that fear drove you into action. And once your success eats away at that fear and you become fat and happy, so to speak, that’s the danger zone. That’s when you’re really at a lot of risk is when you feel you’re at the mountaintop and you can kick your legs up and relax a little bit. That’s the danger zone.

Brett McKay: Yeah. You gave the example of Sears as a story of a brand or a company that had a competitive advantage, but their success actually led to their downfall.

Morgan Housel: It’s like they, it’s like Sears became so ridiculously successful in the ’70s and ’80s that I think they got egotistical and they were like, look, we’re really good at selling socks and underwear. We should now become a bank. We should become a stock brokerage. They started buying, they bought Dean Witter and they bought Discover Card. They bought all these crazy things that they had no idea what they were doing. And I think it was just they became so successful that they thought they could do anything. And once they let that focus drift, then Walmart and Target, and eventually Amazon just came in and ate their lunch. And this was a company that had been so successful at chasing off competitors for 100 years, and then in the course of 10 or 15 years, they lost everything just went up in flames. And so that’s one example, but there’s, that’s almost, that’s the most common story for successful businesses.

And without making any kind of predictions here, you can easily imagine a world in which 30 years from now, at least one of Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Tesla, those big companies will be out of business, I have no idea which one, but just historically speaking, that should be your baseline scenario. That’s historically how it’s worked. I mean, if you go back even to the late 1990s, not that long ago, the big companies were Kodak, AIG, Citigroup, General Motors, all those companies either don’t exist or went bankrupt, even if they still exist. But those were the behemoths back then. Sears of course was in there, JCPenney’s. And 20 years before that it was IBM and US Steel and all these companies that even though they still exist, they are shells of their former selves. So that’s the most likely outcome in these situations is that former companies that had massive competitive advantage, similar to how what Apple and Amazon have today, they eventually lose it.

Brett McKay: Well, in your own life, what can you do to counter this tendency for your competitive advantage to decline because you just get, you get lazy.

Morgan Housel: I think to some extent, I really admire the people who quit while they’re ahead. And obviously most people just can’t just quit their job whenever they want to. I mean, hopefully they’ll retire someday, but I really admire the people who say, look, it was stress and anxiety that got me here and I don’t wanna be stressed anymore. So rather than becoming lazy on my job, I’m gonna quit. The best example to me of that was Jerry Seinfeld, whose show was on top of the world in 1998. It was the biggest it had ever been. And for various reasons, he realized that what made the show so great at least it had the potential of dissipating. And he said, the only way to know where the top is is to experience the decline. And he said, I had no desire to do that. So when the show was absolutely at its peak, it had never been bigger. He quit. He pulled the plug. And that is so hard to do, but I really admire those people who realize that it is way more beneficial for your reputation, your legacy, for your mental health, for your financial wellbeing. It’s way better to quit while you’re ahead than it is to experience the decline after you lose the skill that made you successful to begin with.

Brett McKay: Another idea you talked about is the power of incentives to help you understand why people do what they do, even like the crazy behavior. So how can incentives, understanding incentives help us understand people?

Morgan Housel: I think a lot of times when you see somebody do something crazy or even evil, it’s easy to just say that person is a bad person. That’s an evil person. And very often that is the correct answer. Very often you can just end there. I think what people overlook is that there are a lot of things that they themselves, you, yourself, me, myself, would do if we had the right incentives. So like one example here, after the financial crisis of 2008, it was very easy to point the fingers at the greedy Wall Street bankers who ruined the economy and like they, like by and large that actually was the accurate criticism. There’s nothing wrong with that criticism. What people missed was the idea that, look, if you, yourself, the person criticizing, if you were 27 and you worked at some Wall Street investment bank and they said, Hey, if you package these subprime bonds that were sold to widows and orphans, we’ll give you a million dollar bonus or we’ll give you a $10 million bonus, you would probably do it too.

It’s so easy to criticize without realizing the incentives that will do it. And most people don’t understand the boundaries of their morality and how those boundaries can be influenced by the incentives of the system that they’re operating in. And that has a big impact. I think it makes a lot of people more cynical than they could be. And it also makes people ignorant to how fragile the world can be. Because if you think like, oh, myself and everyone around me we’re good people, we’re moral people and we would not do X, Y, and Z, you’re gonna miss the periods in which the incentives are dangled in front of you that will cause you to do those things. And therefore, like those people, I think by and large underestimate wars, financial crisis, whatever it might be. And you look at a war or a financial crisis and you say, how could somebody possibly do that? And most of the time the answer is because that person has incentives, social incentives, religious incentives, nationalistic incentives, financial incentives that would actually make you possibly do that similar thing if you are in their shoes.

Brett McKay: Yeah. And you talked about, you see this with when you go to a doctor or maybe a financial advisor or maybe some sort of coach and you’re looking for advice and they have an incentive to make it look like they’re offering you good advice. So they’re gonna tell you to do something even when maybe the more appropriate response would be like, well, actually you don’t need to do anything about this.

Morgan Housel: I actually went to the doctor this week with something that I, went with 100% certainty in my own intuition, thought this is going to need surgery, this is gonna need a big intervention. And the doctor looked at it and said, no, you’re fine. You don’t need to do anything. Get out of here. Go home. You’re fine. And it’s like, it’s so refreshing to hear it once in a while. ’cause you’re right that I think it’s very well intentioned that a doctor or a financial advisor or a consultant wants like genuinely wants to give their patient or their client the right advice, the best advice. But it’s very hard to charge particularly a high fee, a high hourly rate. If you look your client in the eye and say, eh, that’s nothing you need to do, just go home. That’s not adding any value. The desire to wanna add value makes them want to pull some lever, twist some dial, do something for the client to make it seem like they’re adding value here. And so that’s the incentive that leads to a lot of bad financial advice. Probably a lot of bad medical advice. It’s actually well-meaning it’s just the incentives of that system lean towards action in fields where sometimes do nothing is the best answer and the right answer.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I’ve had this issue with my roof. So I got a metal seam roof and there’s been a leak somewhere. And of course, who do you call to look at your roof, it’s a roof company. Every time I’ve brought out a roof company, every single one of them has tried to sell me a roof. I finally found a company that said, no, we just need to make this one patch and you’re good. But every other company’s like, no, you need an entirely new roof. And then you understand it’s like, it’s incentives. What is that Warren Buffett quote like, never ask a barber if you need a haircut ’cause he’s always gonna tell that you need a haircut.

Morgan Housel: That’s it. Here’s what’s so interesting about it when you say that I’m willing to bet that when you do need a new roof, you’re gonna go back to that guy who told you that you don’t need one ’cause he just gained your trust. So the irony here is like if you can actually push back against those incentives, you actually build a huge amount of trust. And that trust is gonna be the most, the biggest and most important financial asset and financial driver that you have over time. And/or if your neighbor or your sibling or whatever needed a new roof, you would probably recommend them to that person who just declined an opportunity to give you a new roof.

Brett McKay: So what all these ideas have in common is that it requires you to look at life in the world with a long-term view, right? You can’t just think about this situation because things are constantly changing. But all these things we talked about, they happen on the long-term. You mentioned in the book that you started reading more history books to get better at long-term thinking. Were there any books in particular that had a big impact on your thinking, like history books?

Morgan Housel: There’s one that really sticks out is a book called The Great Depression: A Diary. And self-explanatory title. It was written by this Ohio lawyer in 1930 or in the 1930s named Benjamin Roth. And he was a bankruptcy attorney in Youngstown, Ohio. And he just kept a very elaborate diary. It was his personal diary of what he witnessed during the Great Depression and how people in his town were dealing with the decline. And since he was a bankruptcy attorney, he really had a front row seat into how the depression was playing out. And his son published it in 2010. And I think it’s inadvertently the best economic book that’s ever been written because there’s no hindsight bias in it. Most books about the Great Depression or books about World War II have hindsight bias. You know how the story ends and that colors the opinion of the person writing it.

But in 1932, Benjamin Roth did not know how it was gonna end. He didn’t know if it would ever end the Great Depression. So when he’s writing about it, it’s so raw and you really feel the emotions and the uncertainty that they were dealing with. I mean, the only other parallel there is Anne Frank’s diary of like, there’s another World War II book that has no hindsight bias. She did not know how it was gonna end. She didn’t know how her story was gonna end. And that is so rare and unique because anyone who is writing about history, when they know how the story ends, is gonna be influenced in some very subtle way that changes the arc of the story. But when you really see someone who is writing in real time, it’s a fascinating thing to witness. So that really stuck out to me.

Brett McKay: Yeah, and you also talk about when you pick your reading, what you’re gonna read for like just books or articles, you always ask yourself, will I care about this a year from now, 10 years from now, 80 years from now? And if the answer’s no, that’s okay, but I’m not gonna spend much time reading that type of stuff.

Morgan Housel: And the answer is no, most of the time. That’s usually the case. I used to be a columnist at the Wall Street Journal, great place with people I admire, but there was such a strong push to make every article relevant to today’s news. So I would write a column about investing behavior and sometimes the editors would say, Hey, good piece, but how is this relevant to what’s going on in the world today? And I would wanna push back and say it’s not, but by and large it shouldn’t. If an article is not relevant a year from now, it’s not relevant today. That’s how I viewed it. But there was such a, this idea that everything has to be tied to what happened in your world over the last 24 hours. And I think once you break away from that or you recognize it, you realize that the huge majority, particularly of news that is published today, it’s not that it’s irrelevant, but if you look at something like, oh, this company reported quarterly earnings, I’m not saying that’s not relevant, but will you care about that a year from now?

Of course you won’t. So once you put it through that filter, it filters out the vast majority of noise that’s going on in the world.

Brett McKay: Besides reading history books or books with ideas that stand the test of time. What else have you done to improve your long-term thinking?

Morgan Housel: I mean, this is somewhat related, but I love reading biographies particularly of very successful people, entrepreneurs, politicians, generals, whoever it might be for the sole reason of 99% of the time, if not, virtually a hundred percent of the time. At the end of the book you’ll say to yourself, wow, that person achieved a lot in life and had a lot of success and their life looked like it sucks. They were so stressed, the cost of their success was so enormous, it came exclusively at the expense of the relationships with their kids and their spouse. And once you realize that, then I think it’s really important to start admiring the right people. Like once you get the full view of their life and you’re not just cherry picking their success, but you saw what it took to achieve that success. There’s a lot at the end where I’m like, oh, it’s so easy to look at just the awards and the money. And once you take a longer view of like, yes, but here’s what they had to sacrifice to get that this is true for Elon Musk, Bill Gates, like all of these people today have made such enormous personal sacrifices to get where they are. That I think the vast majority of people definitely me, once they get a full view of that, you will say, look, I admire those people. I’m so glad that they exist because they make society better. But never in a million years would I actually want their life for myself.

Brett McKay: Is there a biography that you like that really sticks out to you, that you’ve read?

Morgan Housel: One that’s so interesting, that I’ve read twice I think is the biography of Joseph Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s father. And he’s such an interesting person because when Joe Kennedy was 20, he made this goal that he was gonna make so much money that his kids would never have to work and they could devote their entire life to politics to eventually become president. That was his life goal when he was 20. And he did it like he was just had the singular focus of the only reason he wanted to become wealthy and he was extremely wealthy, was so that his kids could become president. And it’s just like that a like that’s a perfect example if you see that, and I think it’s fascinating, but it’s like, God, what a dumb life that is like what a egotistical life that is. I would never wanna do that.

But he was such a, he was such an arrogant old bastard for lack of a better phrase, that it’s just an absolutely fascinating life that he had this crazy ambition and he did it. And by the way, John F. Kennedy was not his child that was supposed to become president. The golden child was JFK’s brother Joe Kennedy who died in World War II. So even after that dream was shattered, Joe Kennedy just immediately pivoted and said, okay John, you’re gonna be the one gotta get you into politics, let’s get going. And even though JFK had a pretty mundane childhood, he didn’t really have any skills that stuck out to anyone. It was so important to the family that he became a successful politician, that it was just a 24-hour a day drive to turn him into a great public speaker informed historian to understand how politics works. And of course he became a president. It’s just a remarkable story of like how driven to one goal, one family can be. Yeah.

Brett McKay: You talked about, yeah, that was one of your other principles in the book that sometimes the characteristics that makes someone successful also comes with like shadow characteristics that makes those good things possible. And you have to decide, well, do I want all of it, ’cause if you want to be successful, like say Elon Musk, you have to be completely like Elon Musk and Elon Musk in his private life from what I’ve read, doesn’t seem that great.

Morgan Housel: None, does it not seem great? That’s the charitable definition. It seems awful from my perspective. What makes me happy in life, and I’m sure I’m not rare in this, is like hanging out with my wife, hanging out with my kids, going for walks so we all having dinner with my family and what you see for the huge majority of these people who are mega successful is that the mega success came at the direct expense of their family and personal life. Bill Gates talks about when he was really active in Microsoft, he went 30 years without taking a day off. He worked seven days a week for 30 years. And it’s like that’s again, I’m so grateful that he exists and people like him exist ’cause they create all this new technology that I benefit from. But be careful when you are idolizing these people. It’s one thing to say, I’m glad they exist. It’s another to say, I wish I had that life. That is for me at least by and large, a step too far.

Brett McKay: Well Morgan, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?

Morgan Housel: So Same as Ever comes out November 7th. You can buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble wherever you buy books. I spend most of my time on Twitter. My handle is Morgan Housel, just my first and last name.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well Morgan Housel, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Morgan Housel: Thanks so much.

Brett McKay: My guest today is Morgan Housel. He’s the author of the book, Same as Ever. It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. You can find more information about his work at his website, Also check at our show notes at where you can find links to resources. We can delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Make sure to check out our website at where you find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles that we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you think of. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate it if you take one minute to give us review Apple Podcast or Spotify, it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member you think will get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support and until next time, this is Brett McKay reminding you not only to listen to AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.

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