Confessions of a researchaholic

September 25, 2010

Charlie Munger speech

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:52 am

Charlie Munger probably does not have as much publicity as Warren Buffett, but he is definitely no less witty. See here for a few excerpts from a recent speech at the University of Michigan. I particularly like the part on success:

The best way to get what you want in life is to deserve what you want. How can it be otherwise? It’s not crazy enough so that the world is looking for a lot of undeserving people to reward.

September 19, 2010

China’s one-child policy

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 3:43 pm
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Among all the major policy mistakes the Chinese government has made over the last century, I would say the one-child policy hurts the most, much more than the culture revolution, great leap forward, and various others. It is true that over-population can be a problem, but it can be better addressed by sounder policies. It could even be naturally resolved by market economy and Darwinian competition. As evident in other places such as Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, excessive population growth over economic capacity will eventually cause lower birth rate. Forcing every family to have at most one child takes away the natural force of competition, resulting in less fit offspring not only in the Darwinian sense but also other problems such as gender disparity and potential spoils a single child is likely to receive from his or her family.

An even more serious problem is that China’s population growth rate already falls below 2 children per family (see an excellent article here). Population is power, especially in this age of knowledge economy. Japan is a vivid example of how much damage a shrinking population can do to a country’s economy and overall strength. One of India’s main competitive advantages over China is actually its growing population (aside from democracy, English speaking, and friendlier relationships with the Europeans and American, all much more ephemeral factors in my opinion; see an excellent article here).

In some sense, population growth is like monetary growth; neither too much nor too little is good. But deflation is much worse than inflation.

If the Chinese economy follows the path of the Japanese, it will be a disaster not only for China but the entire world. It is time to abolish this communist-era thinking, and write off the one-child policy into the history book.

September 13, 2010

Talent is overrated

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 3:00 pm
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by Geoff Colvin

This book is really about “practice is underrated”, but I guess the editors need a more catching title for sales. The main point of the book is that effective practice is more important than other factors including specialty talent and general intelligence, and can overcome obstacles such as aging. The book even argues that creativity, commonly considered as a serendipitous process, is actually the result of significantly cumulative knowledge.

And it is not just about any practice, and aimless hard-working and experience will not help. Effective practice must be deliberate and satisfies the following properties: (1) it must be designed to improve specific performance, (2) it must be highly repeatable, (3) there should be continuous feedback, (4) it must be mentally demanding, and (5) it is usually not fun. I actually disagree with the last one, and fortunately the book also pointed out for certain high achievers, practice can be fun. So the last part of the book is about the most important question: why some people are motivated to go through all these hard practice to achieve excellence while others cannot. The most convincing explanation is that some initial small differences get amplified through a positive feedback look of practice and performance: when a kid, who gains a little bit edge on certain activity (either due to innate advantage or benign environment), can be motivated to practice a little bit harder and longer, which translates to even better performance, which motivates more practice, and the loop goes on.

I like this book as it fits my personal experience well. It has long puzzled me why some people have this innate drive to strive for the best while others do not, and this can happen among people with very similar genes and environments (e.g. siblings in the same family). The book also carries a positive message: anyone can achieve excellence if they are willing to go through the right kind of practice.

September 5, 2010

The monk and the riddle

Filed under: Imaginary,Real — liyiwei @ 12:16 pm
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by Randy Komisar

This is such a good book that I wish I had read it earlier (but fortunately found it is not too late). The gist of the book is about the right mind set for starting up companies (it was published right before the dotcom bubble burst) but I believe the main points are equally applicable to other professions: (1) do what you want to do for the rest of your life and (2) be ambitious, aim for the very best, and do not settle for mediocrity.

Read the book to figure out what the riddle is about.

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