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“Things I Learned From My Conversation With James Altucher” – Annie’s Newsletter, Feb 23rd, 2018


I recently appeared on James Altucher’s (@JAltucherpodcast. It was a great, far-ranging conversation, titled for one of the many concepts we discussed, “The Fastest Way to Become an Expert at Anything.” I enjoyed the experience not just for the lively give-and-take that’s part of Altucher’s approach, but because he took the discussion into at least three areas that gave me a fresh perspective on what I wrote:

  • Thinking in Bets is a 10,000-hours hack – As James made me realize during the conversation, by forming a learning pod committed to fielding outcomes more rationally and constructing more accurate beliefs, you can “borrow from other people’s 10,000 hours” to get to expertise more quickly.
  • Situation traveling works like time traveling – In Thinking in Bets, I talk about how past- and future-you can help present-you make better decisions. James pointed out that you can think about recruiting different situational versions of yourself in the same way. For example, if you’re having trouble with a relationship decision, imagine if you were giving advice to your child or to a friend or to a business associate. Doing this kind of situation traveling can supplement time traveling in recruiting different versions of you to help with your decisions.

  • Three types of learning pods – In talking about learning pods, James really broke it down into three groups you can tap into: 1) Peers 2) Experts/Mentors 3) Students/People you mentor. I talked a lot about the first two groups in the book but not as much about the third and I hadn’t broken it down as clearly as he did in the discussion. He gave me the ah-ha moment of remembering how my poker game changed massively when I started teaching beginning and intermediate players. Teaching forced me to hold my intuition to deliberative reasoning. When I had trouble explaining a strategy, that became a signal that I needed to consider revising that strategy.



Dani Saveker, in addition to running her family’s manufacturing business, is a talented visual artist. She specializes in producing illustrated synopses of books she reads. She turned her talents to Thinking in Bets and shared with me how she visualized the concepts. She was also kind about letting me share her artwork.

She posts some of her work on Twitter (@DaniSaveker) and on her website, Although this creative work is not her day-job, she is starting to take commissions.

Hungry for unbiased news? This knife is potentially a helpful tool

I’ve started following @TheKnifeMedia on Twitter and regularly reading their reporting and analysis on (Note: The site allows readers to see a limited number of articles for free but earns its revenue by charging a $15-month subscription fee.)

If you’re looking to see how word choice and selective reporting can deeply shape the narrative, I highly recommend digging into this site.

The Knife offers up reporting stripped of bias, reporting just the facts. The site also includes weekly features like the top 10 spin phrases of the week, and the top 5 distorted headlines.

Our growing political polarization has numerous negative decision-making consequences. Chief among them is that we limit our access to and appetite for information that questions our (and our party’s) views. Increasingly, we get our news from places that confirm our positions. We don’t question or test the information we’re getting (unless we accidentally confront an opposing view, which we tend to dismiss or view hypercritically).

The Knife offers one kind of antidote to our echo chambers.

(Step 1: Think about the possibilities. Step 2: Take a stab at the probabilities.)

Recently, Mike Gioia (@GioiaMtweeted a great question about the process of assigning probabilities to outcomes.

He is referring to a section in Chapter 6 of Thinking in Bets, “Scenario Planning in Practice,” where I described some work I’ve done with After-School All-Stars(@ASASafterschool).

I generally find that people are initially quite reluctant to assign a probability to a possible outcome. This is the first and most significant hurdle to thinking probabilistically. We shy away from assigning a probability to a particular future because we think there is some sort of right answer out there, and once we commit to a particular answer, we’re in a position of getting the answer wrong.

But the problem is that the chances of any outcome occurring (getting a grant or not getting a grant) are probabilistic.  Defaulting to “it will happen or it won’t,” doesn’t make that go away. Recognizing that the future is probabilistic will, in itself, improve your decision quality even if your guess isn’t that good. Because those guesses are better than not guessing at all.

Take a stab at it! Trying is what starts to get you thinking about how you can improve your assessment of the chances. It makes you think about your past experiences, seek out others’ opinions, and look for information that can help to refine your estimates. That usually involves your experience, experience of people you can access, particular factors you’ve identified that could have an effect, industry data to which you have access, and feedback from organizations or clients that you have worked with in the past.


I received the official word on Friday the 16thThinking in Bets had made the Wall Street Journal best-seller list of hardcover business books. I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported the book – readers especially, but also all the people sharing their opinions about the book and offering me forums for sharing my ideas.

Speaking of the Journal, the February 21 print edition included a review of Thinking in Bets by Stephen Phillips, titled, “A Gambler’s Education.”