The Best Quotes on Life

the view from Angel's Landing in Zion National Park

I frequently ask people, "have you read anything great recently?" The answer reveals a person's values, interests, and exposes me to the wisdom they've gleaned. The following are excerpts from the books, essays, and articles I'd recommend to anyone looking for "more".

Quotes on Love

The Last Psychiatrist on loving someone:

You want something uplifting, so here you go: you can never have a good relationship with anyone when your focus is the relationship. There's a human being there who existed well before you got to them, and they weren't built for you or your needs or your parents or your future dreams as an actor. If you want to be happy with someone then your body and mind have to instinctively adapt to their happiness. If you're not ready for this kind of sacrifice, then you're simply not ready.

The Last Psychiatrist

Life Quotes

Paul Graham on having a job you like:

The test of whether people love what they do is whether they'd do it even if they weren't paid for it—even if they had to work at another job to make a living. How many corporate lawyers would do their current work if they had to do it for free, in their spare time, and take day jobs as waiters to support themselves?

Paul Graham

Paul Graham on how to view career options:

Someone graduating from college thinks, and is told, that he needs to get a job, as if the important thing were becoming a member of an institution. A more direct way to put it would be: you need to start doing something people want. You don't need to join a company to do that. All a company is is a group of people working together to do something people want. It's doing something people want that matters, not joining the group.

Paul Graham

Charlie Munger on applied wisdom:

Similarly, I’ve told you to think forward and backward. Well, great declarers in bridge think, “How can I take the necessary winners?” But they think it through backwards, too. They also think, “What could possibly go wrong that could cause me to have too many losers? And both methods of thinking are useful. So to win in the game of life, get the needed models into your head and think it through forward and backward. What works in bridge will work in life.

How can smart people be so wrong? Well, the answer is that they don’t do what I’m telling you to do – which is to take all the main models from psychology and use them as a checklist in reviewing outcomes in complex systems.

Good literature makes the reader reach a little for understanding. Then, it works better. You hold it better. It’s the commitment and consistency tendency. If you’ve reached for it, the idea’s pounded in better.

Charlie Munger

Quotes on Persuasion

B.J. Fogg on how to design behavior:

The takeaway message for designers is to map out the behavior chains you need -- the user flow you want to happen. (You will likely have more than one.) Then figure out how to get people to do the first behavior in a chain. If people don’t naturally take the next step in the chain, then figure out how to get the next step to happen. Step by step. Continue this process, until the chain works.

B.J. Fogg

Business Quotes

Clayton Christensen on the different types of innovation and how growth works:

Empowering innovations create jobs, because they require more and more people who can build, distribute, sell and service these products. Empowering investments also use capital — to expand capacity and to finance receivables and inventory.

The second type are “sustaining” innovations. These replace old products with new models. For example, the Toyota Prius hybrid is a marvelous product. But it’s not as if every time Toyota sells a Prius, the same customer also buys a Camry. There is a zero-sum aspect to sustaining innovations: They replace yesterday’s products with today’s products and create few jobs. They keep our economy vibrant — and, in dollars, they account for the most innovation. But they have a neutral effect on economic activity and on capital.

The third type are “efficiency” innovations. These reduce the cost of making and distributing existing products and services. Examples are minimills in steel and Geico in online insurance underwriting. Taken together in an industry, such innovations almost always reduce the net number of jobs, because they streamline processes. But they also preserve many of the remaining jobs — because without them entire companies and industries would disappear in competition against companies abroad that have innovated more efficiently.

Ideally, the three innovations operate in a recurring circle. Empowering innovations are essential for growth because they create new consumption. As long as empowering innovations create more jobs than efficiency innovations eliminate, and as long as the capital that efficiency innovations liberate is invested back into empowering innovations, we keep recessions at bay. The dials on these three innovations are sensitive. But when they are set correctly, the economy is a magnificent machine.

Clayton Christensen

Clayton Christensen on how disrupters disrupt:

All disruptive innovations stem from technological or business model advantages that can scale as disruptive businesses move upmarket in search of more-demanding customers. These advantages are what enable the extendable core; they differentiate disruption from mere price competition.

Clayton Christensen

David Allen on managing cognitive overload:

I know that you've laid out your message in your books and in seminars and recordings. Still, I'll ask you: What is the single main point you'd like people to remember again, gaining a feeling of control in their lives?

All the stuff that is coming in needs to be externalized. I don't know that I could get it any simpler than that. You need to capture the stuff that's potentially meaningful, you need to clarify what those things mean to you, and you need to keep a series of maps of the results of all of that so you can step back and see it from a larger perspective.

David Allen

Quotes on Humans

David Dobbs explaining how we are constantly evolving at a biological level:

When it comes down to it, really, genes don’t make you who you are. Gene expression does. And gene expression varies depending on the life you live.

“We think of our bodies as stable biological structures that live in the world but are fundamentally separate from it. That we are unitary organisms in the world but passing through it. But what we’re learning from the molecular processes that actually keep our bodies running is that we’re far more fluid than we realize, and the world passes through us.”

“Every day, as our cells die off, we have to replace one to two percent of our molecular being. We’re constantly building and re-engineering new cells. And that regeneration is driven by the contingent nature of gene expression. This is what a cell is about. A cell,” he said [...] “is a machine for turning experience into biology.”

Toward the end of the dinner I shared with Cole, after the waiter took away the empty platters and we sat talking over green tea, I asked him if there was anything I should have asked but had not. He’d been talking most of three hours. Some people run dry. Cole does not. He spoke about how we are permeable fluid beings instead of stable unitary isolates; about recursive reconstruction of the self; about an engagement with the world that constantly creates a new you, only you don’t know it, because you’re not the person you would have been otherwise—you’re a one-person experiment that has lost its control.

We were obviously moving away from what he could prove at this point, perhaps from what is testable. We were in fact skirting the rabbit hole that is the free-will debate. Yet he wanted to make it clear he does not see us as slaves to either environment or genes.

“You can’t change your genes. But if we’re even half right about all this, you can change the way your genes behave—which is almost the same thing. By adjusting your environment you can adjust your gene activity. That’s what we’re doing as we move through life. We’re constantly trying to hunt down that sweet spot between too much challenge and too little.

“That’s a really important part of this: To an extent that immunologists and psychologists rarely appreciate, we are architects of our own experience. Your subjective experience carries more power than your objective situation. If you feel like you’re alone even when you’re in a room filled with the people closest to you, you’re going to have problems. If you feel like you’re well supported even though there’s nobody else in sight; if you carry relationships in your head; if you come at the world with a sense that people care about you, that you’re valuable, that you’re okay; then your body is going to act as if you’re okay—even if you’re wrong about all that.”

David Dobbs

Rene Girard describes politics briefly:

The party struggle is the only stable element in contemporary instability. Principles no longer cause rivalry; it is a metaphysical rivalry, which slips into contrary principles like mollusks that nature has not provided with shells and that install themselves in the first ones to come alone, no matter what kind.

-Rene Girard, p. 131 in Deceit, Desire, and the Novel

Rene Girard explains that feeling uniquely depraved is a universal condition:

I am alone and they are everyone—this is the underground motto. The hero wants to express the pride and suffering of being unique, he thinks he is about to grasp absolute particularity but ends up with a principle of universal application; he emerges with a formula which is algebraic in his anonymity. The greedy mouth closing on nothingness, the Sisyphean effort perpetually renewed, do indeed sum up the history of contemporary individualism.

-Rene Girard, p. 260-261 in Deceit, Desire, and the Novel