The Long Game 34: Fertility in the Red Zone, Getting Smarter vs. Being Productive, Taking the Direct Path
🛠 Tradesmen Performing their Work, The Making of a Manager, Drive, Masks, Religion and Much More!
Greetings from Paris 🇫🇷
Happy New Year! Wishing everyone a great and healthy new year.
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In this episode, we explore:
Sperm count zero
Take the direct path
Learning vs. Being Productive
Questions to ask yourself before starting a company
The science of what motivates us
Let’s dive in!
Alien craft? No, it's The Grand Lisboa Hotel in Macau captured by Paul Tsui.
👶 Sperm Count Zero
I knew fertility was decreasing, but I wasn’t aware of the extent of the situation we’re in. Most of the discussions I had about fertility were in response to the classic argument against life extension: “If we live much longer, the population will get too big.” In response to this, all the indicators show that the population will peak around 2070 at 9 billion. On top of that, low birthrates are very bad for the economy, as Ross Douthat described in The Decadent Society.
This week, I came across this article: What Happens If We Git Sperm Count Zero? It’s an understatement to say that the situation is concerning.
Sperm counts went from 99 million sperm per milliliter of semen in 1973 to 47 million per milliliter in 2011, and the decline has been accelerating. Would 40 more years—or fewer—bring us all the way to zero?
The results, when they came in, were clear. Not only were sperm counts per milliliter of semen down by more than 50 percent since 1973, but total sperm counts were down by almost 60 percent: We are producing less semen, and that semen has fewer sperm cells in it.
It’s not only that men are producing less sperm, but it’s also that men are becoming less male, and the differences between males and females are shrinking.
What you are seeing in a number of systems, other developmental systems, is that the sex differences are shrinking,” Swan told me. Men are producing less sperm. They're also becoming less male.
Some countries seem to be more impacted than others, for now. Denmark is one of them:
Male fertility and male reproductive health, Skakkebæk told me, are in full-blown crisis. “Here in Denmark, there is an epidemic of infertility,” he said. “More than 20 percent of Danish men do not father children.”
The question now is: what happened? The article explores the causes of this drop in fertility linked to the new chemicals our body is now ingesting all the time:
The industrial revolution happened. And the oil industry happened. And 20th-century chemistry happened. In short, humans started ingesting a whole host of compounds that affected our hormones—including, most crucially, estrogen and testosterone.
Normally, acquired traits—like, say, a sperm count lowered by obesity—aren't passed down from father to son. But some chemicals, including phthalates and BPA, can change the way genes are expressed without altering the underlying genetic code, and that change is inheritable.
However, we’ll need more research to validate the hypothesis that this decrease is linked to new chemicals ingested. As a response to my tweet, someone suggested another possible cause—a lessened selection pressure:
Whatever the cause may be, we need to study this phenomenon much more before reaching the point of non-return. The situation is already alarming, and the future of our species depends on making sure we remain fertile:
Not long ago, I spoke with Chris Wohl, who spent six years trying to conceive a child. Both he and his wife had fertility problems: Wohl's sperm count was under 2 million per milliliter—the average count we'd expect to reach, at the current rate, by 2034.
🛣 Take the Direct Path
I found this article by Thomas J Bevan excellent. It’s a piece of life advice, but not the type of lame life advice articles.
Here’s the advice in one sentence:
Decide what you want, identify the direct path that will take you to that destination and then walk that path. That’s the one sentence summary.
This is much more important than it seems. It consists of:
Getting what you actually want
Wanting what you actually get
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🧠 Better Thinking
📚 Getting Smarter vs. Being Productive
There is a tradeoff we all face: getting smarter or being productive. Of course, the situation is often less clear cut than that, but you see my point.
On a normal day, we all have plenty of tasks we need to do. The place of learning is not very clear. Should I be learning every day? Should I learn only the things I will need soon? What about learning to expand my horizons?
Finding the right amount of each is no easy task. Of course, there won’t be a single answer for everyone, but because we all share the same struggle, it’s beneficial to understand how other people are doing it.
The way I see it is that there is the learning that’s related to a specific task you have to do or want to do at some time (accounting, hiring, managing, etc.), and the more general learning (biology, progress, space, etc.)
For the first type, I like the framing: ‘just-in-time learning’ vs. ‘just-in-case learning.’ After spending years at school in the ‘just-in-case’ mode, I developed an impossibility to function this way. Now, I learn the skill when I need it. I like having a sense of urgency, and it helps speed up the process. For this type of learning, I like this metaphor:
Think of knowledge as filling a car with petrol, at some point you have enough and you just gotta drive.
The second type of learning that’s not related to a specific task you want to do and has a different time horizon—the long game—I think it’s fundamental to have a lot of it because it compounds over time and helps you see the world in a more informed way.
In terms of time management, I consider the first category as “work time,” which means that it has a place in my workday calendar. Learning these tasks can have a tremendous upside on your business, so they deserve time. The exact amount will depend on the person. Here’s the example of Amir Salihefendić, CEO of Doist.
I spend a lot of my week reading through stuff — articles, newsletters, books, even videos. Everything that I’m going to read starts out as a todo in my Learning project. I schedule it for a particular day, and I check it off when I’m done.
I do this because a big portion of Doist culture is centered around growth. We are very focused on it. The best way to grow is to learn — and so if I wasn’t learning constantly I wouldn’t be part of the culture we have here. A big chunk of what I do is trying to learn as much as possible.
For the second category, I try to couple it with other activities and do it at different moments. This is why I love the audio format. With audiobooks and podcasts, you can learn new things while walking, cooking, or exercising. The retention can be harder, but it’s doable if you’re organized—it will be a topic for a different episode.
The bottom line is that we all have too many things to do, but by being clear about our priorities and getting inspiration from the world’s top performers, we can do better.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
💌 Letter to a Friend who May Start a New Investment Platform
Graham Duncan has a great post where he asks seven questions to a friend who’s thinking of starting a new fund. I found these questions particularly interesting for everyone who contemplates the idea of founding something.
Here are the 7 questions:
Are you ready to fully own the ambiguity of a new initiative?
Is your spouse fully on board?
How will you accelerate the process of building trust with new partners?
How will you protect the climate within your skull?
How are you going to source enough good ideas?
What are you compulsive about? Is it possible to put that at the center of the platform’s activity?
Are you really focusing on what you’re going to value over the long term?
Start-ups of any kind are awash in ambiguity. It’s the founder’s responsibility to hold that ambiguity for everyone, which is often a lonely job. As you move from “refining reality” in your old job to “asserting reality” as you create something from nothing, you will inevitably encounter the cognitive dissonance borne of having to act as though everything is going to come together when there’s obviously a real chance, for reasons outside your control, it may not.
I find it interesting to see that compulsiveness and obsession come back very often to qualify the skills you need to succeed in what you’re doing.
If you can find the thing you do for its own sake, the compulsive piece of your process, and dial that up and up, beyond the imaginary ceiling for that activity you may be creating, my experience is the world comes to you for that thing and you massively outperform the others who don’t actually like hitting that particular ball. I think the rest of career advice is commentary on this essential truth.
📚 What I Read
👨💼 The Making of a Manager, by Julie Zhuo
This is a great book to learn to become a manager.
Congratulations, you're a manager! After you pop the champagne, accept the shiny new title, and step into this thrilling next chapter of your career, the truth descends like a fog: you don't really know what you're doing.
That's exactly how Julie Zhuo felt when she became a rookie manager at the age of 25. She stared at a long list of logistics--from hiring to firing, from meeting to messaging, from planning to pitching--and faced a thousand questions and uncertainties. How was she supposed to spin teamwork into value? How could she be a good steward of her reports' careers? What was the secret to leading with confidence in new and unexpected situations?
Here’s a quote I liked:
Your role as a manager is not to do the work yourself, even if you are the best at it, because that will only take you so far. Your role is to improve the purpose, people, and process of your team to get as high a multiplier effect on your collective outcome as you can.
🚂 Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink
In this book, author Daniel Pink explains what truly motivates us. It’s crazy to see that the business world isn’t aware of what behavioral science knows about motivation. I read Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely—an excellent book that everyone would benefit from reading—and Drive is a great follow up reading.
Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.
Here are some examples of some things the business world is doing wrong:
“People use rewards expecting to gain the benefit of increasing another person’s motivation and behavior, but in so doing, they often incur the unintentional and hidden cost of undermining that person’s intrinsic motivation toward the activity.”
Goals that people set for themselves and that are devoted to attaining mastery are usually healthy. But goals imposed by others—sales targets, quarterly returns, standardized test scores, and so on—can sometimes have dangerous side effects.
🤚 Fixing Back Pain
Just a quick update here, I read two books, Treat Your Own Back and Healing Back Pain, and I already have pretty great results. I will take more time to make sure the improvements stay and detail it in the newsletter's future episodes.
🎙 Podcast Episode of the Week
On other shows:
🍭 Brain Food
Religion as we know it is receding in Western countries, but it doesn’t mean that religion is going away:
If you count yourself among the secularists cheering for the demise of religion, it isn’t hard to find comforting statistics. Nearly every survey of the state of religion in my own country, the United States, presents a similar picture of faith in decline. Compared to their parents and grandparents, Americans are less likely to self-identify as religious, attend religious services, or engage in religious practices such as daily prayer. Full-blown atheism is still a minority position. But the ranks of the “non-religious”—a broad category made up of those who reject traditional conceptions of God and religious doctrines, or who express uncertainty about their beliefs—are growing.
Above anything else, religion is a solution to give meaning to our lives:
In short, people who view their lives as full of meaning are more likely to thrive than those who don’t.
When people turn away from one source of meaning, such as religion, they don’t abandon the search for meaning altogether. They simply look for it in different forms.
As faith declines, people report having different experiences:
Nearly one third of Americans report having felt in contact with someone who has died, feel that they have been in the presence of a ghost, and believe ghosts can interact with and harm humans.
I find the link between religion and politics fascinating, both on the right and on the left:
And if you imagine that secular ideologies and political movements now seem to exhibit faux-religious characteristics, you aren’t alone. “We have the cult of Trump on the right, a demigod who, among his worshippers, can do no wrong,” wrote Andrew Sullivan recently in New York magazine. “And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical.
🎥 What I’m Watching
🛠 Videos of Tradesmen Performing their Work
I discovered the Subreddit: Videos of Tradesmen Performing their Work, and I have to say, these videos are fascinating.
Here are some good ones:
🔧 The tool of the Week
😷 Good Masks
Masks aren’t going away anytime soon. I was tired of the ones you can get in the pharmacy and wanted something better. I tried this one from Uniqlo and this one from Lululemon. They’re good, but they’re not the perfect mask yet.
Did you find the perfect mask? Let me know!
🪐 Quote I'm Pondering
There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate: when he can’t afford it and when he can.
— Mark Twain
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