Thank you! (breathes a sigh of relief)
It’s always a little worrying when I publish a blog post and then don’t get feedback till much later — especially when it’s about something as meta and as abstract as this. You understood everything I was trying to say, which makes it somewhat of a relief — and you even caught on to the implications of needing to sound intelligent (urbane, as you put it) in conversation, in order to pass off as someone who is ‘strategic’ and ‘thoughtful’ and possibly ‘insightful about the world’.
There’s another application of this idea that I put in one of my earlier drafts but then tossed out, because I wasn’t sure that it would be broadly appreciated. But I suspect this is something you might enjoy.
I spend a lot of time listening to finance podcasts. And one way to evaluate what the investors are saying — because they are subjected to the same pressures of needing to sound smart and urbane and all that — is to keep asking: “are they voicing opinions about things that are within ± of their level?” If they are, good, then you can take them at face value — because it’s likely they have skin in the game there. But if they’re not, then you can just downweight the opinion and treat it as ‘some opinion that they happen to hold.’
I’ve found this to be incredibly valuable in separating ‘useful, believable opinion that I should investigate further’ from ‘belief that smart person holds that they don’t have privileged insight about.’
A concrete example:
In the Invest Like The Best episode with Modest Proposal, Modest says that “given enough time, every consumer-facing app eventually makes money with ads”. This is a pretty controversial statement, but Modest makes the bulk of his money investing in public consumer tech companies, so he likely has privileged insight here that I don’t. I’m willing to assign a credibility rating of above .5 to this idea, and mark it up for further investigation later.
In the Invest Like The Best episode with Matt Clifford, on the other hand, Clifford asserts that “I feel like the broad economic compact between mega-cities and their hinterland is breaking, because of increasing returns to extreme talent. In a world of increasing returns to talent, and increasing talent aggregation in cities, it’s actually really tough to make that work as a political economy” and so he concludes “you’ll get more cities seceding from countries.”
This falls into the category of ‘opinion smart person has on something he has no privileged insight about’. Clifford runs Entrepreneur First, which is a ~100M-ish ‘talent investor’ — that is, it pays talented people to come together to start companies. You would think that this would give him some level of privileged insight on the ‘returns to talent’, but really EF is a tiny player, many levels removed from the macro-forces he talks about. The factors that Clifford would have privileged insight about are:
- The factors that directly influence EF’s recruiting pipeline in academia, corporate research, and in the broad industries that they recruit from.
- The early stage investing landscape in whatever country EF operates in (and they do operate in more cities than most funds their size).
- etc — extrapolate as needed.
So I feel pretty safe just discarding this opinion as ‘thing Clifford says, or writes about, in his newsletter so that he can appear smart and urbane, but really he has no privileged insight into’.