The Power of Not Knowing—Weekly Wisdom

Also, on the misuse of probability, the hilarious working habits of young people, the benefits of commitment, the role of luck in life and a bizarre crime

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Something I learned

Probability and Guilt

This video tells the story of gross misuse of statistical probability as evidence. In 1968, The prosecutor in a California robbery case made up statistics and presented that as evidence. This lead to a conviction of two innocent people. California Supreme Court set aside the conviction. However, not after both accused spent years serving time. This led to the court adopting the Collins test for admissibility of probabilistic evidence. It must satisfy these 4 :

  1. The probability factors need to be accurate—you can’t just make them up.
  2. The calculations are done correctly and formulas are applied appropriately.
  3. All the factors being calculated actually apply to the parties involved.
  4. the evidence proves there could be only ONE result.

Something(s) to read

Friends of the Newsletter

Some Quotes and Notes

Zoom out

Writing coach David Perell, writes this fairly detailed essay on commitment. Or more appropriately, the lack thereof amongst younger professionals. When you commit to something, Perell posits, it pays long term dividends. He makes a pretty strong case for his argument.

The cadence of your work shapes your temperament. When you’re a day trader, every phone notification matters. But when you’re a committed buy-and-hold investor, you can mostly ignore them. The longer your time horizon, the calmer life becomes. Zoom out far enough and once-gargantuan hurdles turn into tiny speed bumps on the road of life.

— David Perell, Hugging the X-Axis
The image contains two hand-drawn graphs side by side. The left one is labelled Days, and has a jagged line. It signifies rough problems one have over the course of days. The right on is smooth curve going upwards. It is labelled days

The Compounding Effects of Luck

Your failures aren’t completely your fault. Your successes aren’t solely your achievement. Luck plays a huge part in both outcomes. That is the central thesis of this piece by Nick Maggiulli. He cites example of writer Stephen King and his once nom de plume Richard Bachman. King sold millions of copies under his name. While writing as Bachman, his most successful book only sold a few thousands copy. Kings earlier success lead to a long term advantage that ‘Bachman’ could never replicate.

Have you gotten more than your fair share? Have you had to deal with more struggles than most?

I ask you this question because accepting luck as a primary determinant in your life is one of the most freeing ways to view the world. Why?

Because when you realize the magnitude of happenstance and serendipity in your life, you can stop judging yourself on your outcomes and start focusing on your efforts. It’s the only thing you can control.

— Nick Maggiulli, Why Winners Keep Winning

The Joy of Admitting Ignorance

In this book by the authors of Freakonomics, you will find many counterintuitive truths. One of them being the value of admitting that you don’t know something.

there is another, more strategic benefit to occasionally saying “I don’t know.” Let’s say you’ve already done that on a few occasions. The next time you’re in a real jam, facing an important question that you just can’t answer, go ahead and make up something—and everyone will believe you, because you’re the guy who all those other times was crazy enough to admit you didn’t know the answer. After all, just because you’re at the office is no reason to stop thinking.

— Levitt & Dubner, Think Like A Freak

Thank you for joining me this week. If you know some who might enjoy this, please forward this email to them. See you next week.

Mudassir Chapra

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