Parable of Shitty Choices


  • Effective decision-making can be counter-intuitive.
    • You assume that a good decision is supposed to look and feel good, and a bad decision is supposed to look and feel bad.
      • Some decisions do follow that pattern, and those are the easy ones– the ‘freebies’. Everyone can make those decisions.
    • The hard, counter-intuitive thing is when a good decision feels bad, or when a bad decision feels good.  That’s when you’ll have to steer against what ‘feels’ right. (random aside: Interesting parallels to countersteering? 1 2 3 4)
    • Apart from luck, making the right decisions in these difficult situations is what separates the successes from the also-rans.


Bad decision, feels good Good decision, feels good
Bad decision, feels bad Good decision, feels bad


  • Posssible intro: talk about bikeshedding as a counter-example– choosing errenously to focus on a simple problem instead of digging into the difficult/shitty problem.
    • There’s a funny yet troubling story that says a lot about the limitations of human decision-making…”
    • (probably even better: tell a story about a bad decision that felt good, and a good decision that felt bad)


Obvious preamble, can probably cut: The quality of your life is, after accounting for starting conditions and other variables beyond your control (genetics, upbringing, environment), ultimately a function of the quality of your decisions.  So you always want to make the best decisions you can. To do that, you need to identify what the optimal decision is, and then you need to execute on it. That much is obvious. So why is it that we don’t see people making optimal decisions all the time?

Sometimes identifying the optimal decision is easy,

    • because it jumps out at you as the obvious and right thing to do,
    • because there’s a wealth of information that points out that it’s the right thing to do,
    • because everyone who evaluates the problem has the same opinion as you.
    • Those almost aren’t worth discussing– they’re “solved problems” with obvious solutions.
    • Execute them quickly, pat yourself on the back and move on to the hard stuff.
    • (In fact, if you find yourself making a series of easy good decisions, it’s a strong sign that you might be too far inside your comfort zone and avoiding the real, important decisions that need to be made.)
    • (It’s often tempting to spend an excessive amount of time and energy on the clean, tidy problems – so much so that there’s a name for the phenomeon: Bike-shedding.)
  • Startups that get caught up in bikeshedding can “do everything right” and yet run out of money and get shuttered.
  • Startups need to focus on staying alive, and staying alive is a hard, messy problem that involves confronting shitty decisions and systematically making the least shitty decision.
  • That’s the optimal thing to do.
  • It’s optimal, but it’s emotionally draining, because even when you make the right decision, you’re going to look and feel like you failed.
    • When you fire someone early rather than late, you’re going to feel the emotional cost of asking someone to leave.
    • Even though that might be the right decision!
    • You may have to ship something that’s imperfect, even though you feel that it’s right to wait until you get everything right.


  • Ultimately, your success is going to be determined primarily by the decisions you make in the difficult quadrants – how you use your judgement, discipline, focus, discernment to make good decisions even when they feel bad, and to avoid bad decisions even when they feel good.
  • This is obviously easier said than done, but acknowledging that this is how it is is the first step towards making it happen.
    • If you want to achieve significant success, you’re invariably going to have to make hard decisions, and you’re quite probably going to be tempted to go with what feels right.
    • Be wary of your feelings(?).
    • (Maybe some extra bit about how… it’s tempting to follow the herd and be wrong with the herd, because you at least don’t have to endure the discomfort of being deviant.)

Possibly relevant quotes:

“Either way could be a big mistake. You’re not going to get any confirmation from anybody or anything. If you change and succeed, that might be great, but you might have succeeded even better at the last thing. If you change and fail, you’ll never know if you might’ve succeeded if you hadn’t changed.” – Marc Andreessen, to Tim Ferriss

“No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.” ― Tommy Lasorda

“Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.”  ― Jack London

“Being a good company doesn’t matter when things go well, but it can be the difference between life and death when things go wrong. Things always go wrong.” – Ben Horowitz

Movie Analysis: The Terminal (2004)

introducing navorski was a master-class in building sympathy for a character – fish out of water (see also: mean girls), learns about the destruction of his homeland from far, nobody helps him, nobody cares about him. There’s a great scene where we see him despairing, and then the camera zooms out from him until he’s just a faceless person in a big crowd. one of spielberg’s classic moves?
nice use of the overall development of the character from unknown to beloved by the whole community. Nobody can give him a job because of bureaucracy – no social security number, no home address, etc.
despite being in a difficult state he helped the man with the medicine for his father – he didn’t have to, but he did, because of some underlying decency
his mission to help his father who’s already dead – a sense of moral code, underlying belief – we want to help a person who has that, even if we don’t have that themselves
dogged persistence with the forms, rather than giving up and being depressed – we admire that in a person
learning about the quarters, making progress, but then having that taken away from him – you have to give your characters something and then take it away from them, now we’re invested, we want to see them get justice
it’s nice to see navorski make friends with the staff and slowly win them over one by one
the old indian guy’s character is a bit of a predictable trope but it’s well used. them coming together to help him with his dinner was a nice touch, the dinner ultimately not working out was also a nice touch.
zeta-jones character was rather flat, seemed tacked on rather than carefully considered. she was a hot-babe-mcguffin, an object of interest for the protagonist. We sympathized with him when she seemed to wave at him but was waving at somebody else, minor cringe. she has a lousy relationship with her partner, who’s married and cheating on his spouse. Her relationship with Navorski doesn’t really feel believable – it moves a bit too fast, she’s a bit too responsive, it’s just not very plausible.
learned afterwards that the set was built from scratch, which is pretty amazing. beautifully done set. the immigration/visa office was wonderfully bureaucratic with its cold white lights and harsh cubicle interior. why do we design places like that?
The film is a pleasant time-pass but nothing amazing. 3/5


My wife likes that Redmart takes pictures of their products, front and back, and allows you to zoom in. So you can see the ingredients, nutritional info, what substances are in the anti-bacterial soap, etc. She notes that this isn’t a very common feature.

MailChimp “send campaign” launch button – makes it a fun event.



This page is a work-in-progress, a list of people that I find helpful in thinking about marketing. 

Seth Godin

He understood why Google Maps wasn’t working, and helped them fix it. Initially it was just about the novelty factor of seeing where your house was, what it looked like from space – but for it to be truly useful to people, to be something people talked about, it needed to really be about directions.

Rory Sutherland

Appreciates that perception = reality.

Elon Musk

Appreciates value of superlatives. Knows how to play the media. Knows how to satisfy his tribe of nerds. Turned buying a luxury supercar into a status symbol AND an act of charity. Made people feel good.

Dietrich Mateschitz

The man behind Red Bull. Very strong personality. Real sense of adventure. Understood pricing. [More: 1]

David Ogilvy

Had a very clear sense of who he wanted to work with, well in advance. Personally wrote some great headlines.

“The customer is your wife” – appreciated that you can’t and shouldn’t screw around with customers.

Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan, Michio Kaku, Neil Tyson & Bill Nye

The best science educators have this beautiful sense of wonder about them. They have a low tolerance for bullshit or jargon. They explain things as simply as they can. They respect and honor their audiences, and have a sensitivity to their context. They’re all particularly great with children.

Jason Silva

Appreciates the power of spectacle, pacing, rhythm, buildup, etc.

Tim Urban (WaitButWhy), Mark Manson, Evan Pushak (NerdWriter), Bill Wurtz (History of Japan), Paul Ford (What is Code?)

Modern educators, longform writers.

Tim Ferriss, Elliott Hulse

Building a personality-centric brand.

Brian Balfour, Brian Dean, Neil Patel, Hiten Shah, Ramit Sethi, Andrew Chen

When these people talk about marketing, I usually pay attention.

Ed Gotham, Tom Albrighton, Dan Shipper 

I’ve liked their blogs.

Back to Marketing.