Two incredible tools for sustained growth: “why” + Commonplace

Topic: Are you stuck on the nearest hill? How do you even know? Finding out what your alternatives are, what you actually want and how to get it starts with why.

Discussion: How to make sure you don’t squander your life, or your investment returns

Conclusion: Question more. Do it systematically. Get to the root. Adapt.



That word might be the very thing separating humans from animals.

OK, for the record, I don’t think there is a clear separation between “humans” and “animals”. I think intelligence, emotions, curiosity, consciousness, cumulative culture etc. are manifested along a spectrum in all living things.

I do, however, think that humans are orders of magnitude ahead most animals in some respects, such as when it comes to asking questions like “How?” and “Why?”

It’s the hows and the whys that got us technology, which in turn has given humanity a form of abundance of food and leisure that most animals don’t. It’s not all good of course, since evolution has taught us to eat all the calories we can lay our hands on, while spending as little energy as possible. We evolved for energy-hoarding “Netflix and chill” behavior (as in actually chilling in front of a movie with a bag of chips, but, sure, we have evolutionary drives of other kinds too). But what we need is novelty and exercise.

My whys are about maintaining Future Skills

Almost everything I do these days is centered around understanding and countering evolutionary mismatches, and staying relevant just in case.

To be clear, here’s the situation:

I had a rewarding career in finance to say the least. Then I quit when I had enough money to live comfortably for the rest of my life. The problem is that living comfortably might mean too little physical and mental challenge to stay healthy. In addition I don’t trust fiat money or even the conceptual system of working in one period for “tokens” and relying on others doing the work for me in the next period in exchange for said tokens. In particular not over longer time periods.

The above means I need to keep investing both financially and personally in order to stay relevant and secure in a changing world. That’s why I keep risking my money in various ventures, as well as read, write, listen and record — in essence learn and teach.

Sure, I would still work out and do sports, not to mention read books and listen to podcasts, even if I didn’t worry about becoming unhealthy and ignorant. And I probably would do some investing too, just because it’s fun to be involved in interesting projects or simply to help people realise their ideas. I wouldn’t, however, as I do now, manage dozens of investments, projects, blogs and podcasts at the same time. Sure, I wouldn’t call it “work”, but the fact is that I’m never idle.

I’m not complaining. Not at all. On the contrary, I’m doing exactly what I want. It’s just a little surprising to myself what it was that I wanted.

Ask why, answer, and change accordingly

Alright, enough with the soul searching. What’s the takeaway for you?

The most important tool for moving forward I’ve come across is the question “Why?”. It’s even better in multiple form, such as the Five Whys:

Ask yourself why you do something, and then why that is, and why again until you get to the actual root of the matter. Do the same with reality, events and people around you to map your surroundings and put yourself in the relevant context.

In order to benefit fully from the power of why you probably need a way to organise your findings too. That’s where the commonplace comes in handy — that’s just an old word for a structured notebook where you keep track of all your ideas and findings in a systematic and searchable form.

Start with your most fundamental whys: why you live where you do, why you work where you do, why you see the people you see, why you eat what you eat and do what you do. Try this:

Make a table in your commonplace and fill it out with answers to why, gradually over time as you are hit by inspiratons (an elusive elementary particle):

  • Work (help people, stay relevant)
  • Live (friends, environment, infrastructure)
  • Travel (see new things, change, break)
  • People (interesting, challenging, fun)
  • Consume (just the bare necessities)
  • Eat (nutrition, health)
  • Do (blog, write, record, read: see Work)
  • Study (exciting, brain health, curiosity)
  • Exercise (health, vanity, fun)
  • Invest (fear, fun, challenging)
  • Social Media (contribute, networking)

Then ask how you could do it differently, better, tailored to you. Keep adding snippets of information and clues to answers to those questions in your commonplace Know Thyself file, until you know enough to start transforming your life from what just happened to take shape to what you actually would design from the bottom up (within the bounds of all kinds of individual, worldly limitations of course).

If asking why is your most valuable friend; availability bias, ownership bias, loss aversion and homeostasis are your worst enemies. They are all variations of a theme that anchors you in place, making you climb the nearest hill instead of the best hill. Searching and replacing that default state takes effort and courage, and the potential rewards aren’t now but in the future.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ll conclude that you’re already exactly where you would be anyway. Wonderful! Alternatively, you might find you should and could change dramatically. Also wonderful! (albeit scary).

If you’re an investor there are whys for you as well

Maybe you’re not ready for life-altering decisions. Maybe you’re just an investor that came across this post unknowingly, and your answer to why you invest is simply “to get more money”. Well, the principle is still good:

Why do you hold the assets you do? Why is that valuation metric important? Why would the growth rate be x%? Why would that push the stock price higher? Why do you think it’s not in the price already? Why would A and B change the way they need to in order for your investment to pan out as planned?

Make it a habit to at least once a year pretend you’re starting from scratch and question every single holding in your portfolio and their premise and actively try to find better alternatives.

I’m not sure which is harder, giving up on old holdings or old habits.

The feeling of freedom

My whys made me give up high finance in exchange for dog walks, podcasting and writing, but I still live in the same apartment and go about my days much the same as before. The only true difference is that instead of spending my days in an office researching stocks, I’m sitting alone in my home office on the one hand learning and expressing myself, and on the other making sure I could get a job if needed.

Another difference is the concept of “freedom”. I could do whatever I like. The only consequence would be a theoretical loss of relevance in the future. As long as I know I’m “free”, I’m happy confining myself to a small room and an internet connection.

That seems to be what I really needed, just the feeling of freedom.

Future Skills

Now, what about you? Do you have your whys in order, whether for the big picture or just your investments? Start taking notes, slowly but deliberately mapping your actual life and comparing it to your desired life.


In my podcast Future Skills (link to iTunes to listen to and rate the show) I and Ludvig talk about strategies for achieving the best possible life experience. We talk about tools and habits for enhanced focus, creativity, health, finances and happiness, in order to prosper in a world of accelerating change.

We talk about self-knowledge, about breaking homeostasis and about circumventing irrational biases in short format episodes, and provide inspirational conversations with masters in their field in longer format episodes.

Do you know what you want and how to get it?

No? Don’t worry, most people don’t. In Future Skills we explore that space together, on a quest for ever better methods and practices to foil our evolutionary mismatches.

Check it out on iTunes or any Android podcast app of your choice.

P.S. Please rate or review Future Skills to help make more people find it

Subscribe on iTunes | Subscribe on Android

What if I told you there is a GREEN pill?

Do you choose blissful ignorance in a gilded cage (blue pill)?

Or painful truth and “freedom” in the gutter (red pill)?

Well, which is it?

Pills and bills

What if I told you there is a green pill?

There exists a place on the interwebs where truth is served without hesitation, but where you’re simultaneously encouraged to make your stay in whore village as short and rewarding as possible.


This green pill enclave teaches you to push your competency, push your abilities, push your targets, push your income, push your returns until you become WSP worthy. But it doesn’t end there. Making millions is important, but making billions is just plain stupid and a waste of your most precious resource – time.

Wall Street Playboys

WSPs teach how to make money, how much you should be making, what skills you need, how to prioritize, when to learn, when to experiment, what friends to keep, when to party and so on. WSPs tell you if you’re heading in loser direction, WSPs tell you if you need to, and how to accelerate, what risks to take.

And then they tell you when you’re done. If you can’t relax, if you can’t play, if you can’t enjoy yourself in the surroundings of your choice, the company of your choice, in a strong and healthy body with an alert mind then you are a loser to no matter how much material wealth you’ve got piled up.

The red pill lands you in a tent and on a yoga mat, which is interesting in your 20s, weird in your 30s and leads to premature death in your 70s

The blue bill leads to middle management and a quiet suburb

The green pill fills up your bank account, your muscles and your brain in your 30s, and releases you as an independent and intelligent alpha in your 40s, free and capable of doing exactly what you want.

The green pill place is called Wall Street Playboys and you’ll find them right here (P.S. buy their book EFFICIENCY; the book is in effect the green pill)

Many ways to Rome – Future Skills

Still here? If Wall Street Playboys‘ web site and book are the literate versions of the green pill, my podcast Future Skills is the audio version. With three different kinds of episodes I and Ludvig aim to provide the tools you need to be prepared for accelerating societal and technological change. We talk about:

  • How to learn more efficiently – metacognition and learning about learning
  • What to learn – methods, mindsets, skills
  • Where to invest your skills and resources for maximum returns – psychologically, mentally, financially and physically
  • How to identify and achieve your desires to enjoy your personal and financial investment returns

Check out our green pill podcast Future Skills and leave a much appreciated rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Again, a quick rating on either place means more people get to make their life greener. We would appreciate it very much. In addition a review is your ticket to a competition throughout April 2018. Read more here.

Creating a confluence of success factors – new people equal new insights

If you don’t see new people you won’t see new things

-Anna Svahn, networking phenomenon, in my (Swedish) podcast “25 minuter” (link)

If you always see the same people, you’ll keep doing the same things, think the same thoughts, commit the same mistakes, miss important investment opportunities, and end up stagnant and disillusioned.

– Change your people, change your life.

I’ve written extensively before about the importance of perspective for both effectiveness and long term satisfaction, a.k.a. happiness (check out Perspective is gold, Long term satisfaction and Mentally challenged). Anna elaborates on a similar theme.

In my interview* with her, Anna explains how rewarding it can be to step out of your echo chamber, to be proven wrong and learn new things. Not least, she hits the nail on the head when recommending changing the five people you spend most of your time and energy on, lest your own situation and perspective will never change.

* it’s 34 minutes packed with insights about networking, efficiency, life rhythm, Tao, writing and much more. If you understand Swedish I strongly recommend you to listen to it on whatever podcast app you’re using, e.g., Soundcloud or iTunes #113.

The right people or the right place?

Successful people seem to repeatedly be right where they need to be at the right time. One explanation is that they know and regularly meet with the right people. Or is it the other way around; do they meet the right people because they are at the right place?

Create the situation you want“, is Anna’s answer to that. Among other measures she has taken, in order to broaden her perspective and gain new insights, she started having breakfast with inspirational people every Friday; first one-on-one and later in somewhat larger settings. The breakfasts are invitation-only, the guests are a secret and all kinds of documentation and social media have been banned. The rules ensure a free flowing conversation about anything from boosting start-ups to discussing investments, crypto currencies, or the weather for that matter.

These breakfasts are as simple as they are ingenious. Start by asking a friend from Facebook or Linked in, or a colleague from a different department. Use the first breakfast to brainstorm who else you could ask. Expand from there. Before you know it you’ll have created a vibrant micro community of idea creation that can lead to if nothing else a healthy dose of brain activation and fun, but more likely also to great ideas about personal growth, investing and adventure.

Don’t trust chance – create your own

My own life and career consists of a long chain of serendipitous events and a confluence of somewhat unlikely factors. I was always more likely to end up like the meth cooking chemistry professor in Breaking Bad than heading the European hedge fund of the decade and later an appreciated blog and podcast, but luck and grit happened to take me on a different path. Anna Svahn, on the contrary, is exactly where she wants to be and she just turned 25 years old this summer (2017).

Svahn has deliberately created her own confluence of synergistic factors of people, environments, habits (though she calls it rhythms) and activities, whereas I blindly stumbled from one lucky break to the other owing most of my successes to pure grit and a slightly asocial personality (not being invited to the cool kids, not giving a damn, hiding in science and symbol manipulation).

Next, I’ll write an article on how my being a bullied loner and a nerd from out of town tied in with computers, programming, mathematics and being tired of school to put me in the perfect time and place for using the dotcom bubble to catapult my career. I was lucky to have the right skill set and lucky to have the right calibration regarding stock market valuations for my two decades as a finance professional.

I’ll also describe my development from a die hard “Discounted Cash Flows Are The Only Theoretically Correct Way To Value Companies” advocate, through “Technical Analysis Dabbler”, via “Earnings Reports Are All Important” evangelist and “Relative Growth Rates Rule” missionary and a few other of the ways any investor is bound to get lost. My view these days on DCF, TA, trend analysis etc. is too complicated to explain in anything less than a short book, but that’s coming sooner or later.

A blueprint for success – creating your own confluence of serendipitous factors

IT legend Roger McNamee (listen to the interview in Superinvestors #18) has provided a blueprint for how to create your own confluence of people, activities, environment and grit in any new and exciting sector. He toured for a year, if not more, with the people who were creating the new IT industry. That’s how he saw more clearly than anyone else what companies and what people would succeed, go under, get acquired, get funding, should get funding and so on.

His blueprint is exactly how I have tried saying you should cover developments in blockchain technology, quantum computing, robotics, electric engines, battery technology, AI and so on. That is, if you care about achieving a leading position in an exciting and future oriented field.

Applying the blueprint in practice

Start by reading the basics, then sell that knowledge to public and private organizations as a consultant. Keep learning more about the tech itself, as well as what your prospective clients want or need – both from your meetings with them and through external sources. Not least, keep talking to all and any industry representative you can get hold of. Call them, interview them, go to conferences, travel with them. NB: remember to provide value at all times; ask them what you can do for them. “What do you need? What do you lack? How can I help you?”. Keep notes in your commonplace of people, companies, sub industries, sector convergence and divergence etc.

In one year you’ll know more than any industry analyst or CEO about the key players, key technologies, key developments, most lucrative investment or employment opportunities. Contrast that with studying books and articles on the internet alone for a year, trying to understand the ever changing flows of a new industry without talking to the people shaping the development.

So, take a leaf from Anna Svahn’s and Roger McNamee’s books, and test drive all electrical cars you can, talk to e-car owners, talk to local politicians (about regulation), call e-car sub-suppliers and battery start-ups to gauge demand and technological developments, ask for or make your own calculations regarding Tesla’s cars (do the numbers add up regarding weight, power, range, charging times, manufacturing cost and so on).

Or, why don’t you buy a few toy robots, learn some Python and re-program them, talk to toy store purchase managers, visit robot manufacturers, try your alterations on your or your friends’ and their children. What works and what doesn’t? What are the manufacturers, innovators and stores missing?

Conclusion – listen to Anna Svahn and Roger McNamee and change your settings to change your life

  • Listen to my interview (#113) with Anna here
  • List the people you spend your time and energy on
  • List who or what kind of people you’d like to see more of
  • Change your daily habits in order to interact more with inspirational people and less with homeostasis dwellers
    • stop eating lunch with the same colleagues at the same place
    • change gym (or talk to new people about new things at your old gym)
    • watch less TV or aimlessly surf the net, and schedule IRL (preferably non alcoholic) activities with inspirational and ambitious contacts you’d like to know better