The Profile: Wall Street’s cult hero & the feminist writer under fire

Good morning, friends!

Do you really believe what you believe?

I recently interviewed Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman, a man who has been called “the master of the alternative universe” because Blackstone made its name by investing in alternative assets. So when I asked him what he thinks about frontier assets like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, he said, “I don’t have much interest in it because it’s hard for me to understand. I was raised in a world where someone needs to control currencies.”

Fair point. But it made me think (because as we all know by now, I overthink things) about all the things we believe because of our background, our family, our job, our economic incentives, and our political affiliations. And it’s only natural (and sane) that things we believe change over time, right? Mine certainly have.

Yet what I’ve noticed lately is that it seems like a really, really bad thing to change your mind. In politics, you’re called a flip-flopper. In real-life, you’re a hypocrite. On Twitter, you’re called god knows what. Is it weird that I actually prefer that politicians change their mind? It makes them seem more, oh I don’t know, rational and shows they’re able to evolve their thinking. Apparently, I’m in the minority on this one because we’re actually not wired to like politicians, or anyone really, who changes their mind. 

I spent 30 minutes trying to find this NPR podcast from 2012 about how the human brain craves predictability, and how it feels betrayed when politicians change their position. It points to the research of Phil Tetlock. According to him, the political world is divided into two groups of people whom he calls foxes and hedgehogs. (It’s based on the ancient Greek aphorism, which says the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.) 

Tetlock says that some leaders behave like hedgehogs: They have one big worldview based on what they see as a few fundamental truths, and these people are highly consistent. So a free-market hedgehog uses the lens of the free market to understand all types of different things. The foxes, on the other hand, tend to be very inconsistent because they are guided by drawing on many diverse strands of evidence and ideas. 

So Tetlock conducted a massive study over 20 years to look at how accurate foxes and hedgehogs were in predicting what they future was going to look like. In the end, he found that over time, foxes tend to be much more accurate than hedgehogs. Why? Because for a fox, being wrong is an opportunity to learn new things, so they are much better equipped to deal with the complex and unpredictable things life throws your way.

Still with me? OK, now allow me to add one more layer to this. 

In a new More to That post, Lawrence Yeo explains what happens when someone ardently sticks to their beliefs — regardless of any new information and facts that have come in. So even if it sounds implausible, this person’s sticking to their guns. Here’s where it gets interesting.

This feeling of believing that you should believe something — despite realizing it’s ridiculous — is what philosopher Daniel Dennett calls “belief in belief.” “It’s a shield that can be used to protect a belief from further scrutiny, as it prioritizes the benefits of a belief over the truth of it,” Yeo writes.

In other words, a lot of times people know what they’re saying is irrational and straight up crazy, but they continue to believe things just out of pure obligation. “This disconnect between thought and belief is found everywhere,” Yeo writes. “It’s found in the lawyer that wants to be an entrepreneur but fears what people will think. It’s found in the scientist that comes across a great observation, but hides it because it contradicts what he’s been saying for years.”

This is why I struggle to have any sort of productive political conversation with my friends. As someone who holds many ever-changing beliefs, I hate the idea of blindly trusting one single person who actively promises they’ll never change their mind and vows to deliver on their goals regardless of the context.

Before your next conversation, I urge you to ask yourself: Are my words, actions, and thoughts actually aligned with what I believe?

---

We’ve got some gems this week: 

The CEO betting on an autonomous future [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The Terminator ready for a comeback
— Wall Street’s cult hero
— The movie star that doesn’t want to be a star
— The feminist writer under fire
The billionaire and the environmentalist
— The Nike of sleep
— Vice’s next pivot
— The NFL coach searching for his family


👉 If you enjoy reading profiles of the most interesting people and companies, tweet to tell others about it:

Tweet


PEOPLE TO KNOW.

The CEO betting on an autonomous future: General Motors CEO Mary Barra is adamant that GM will sell a million electrics a year in the very near future, while lowering costs and gaining an economy-of-scale edge that Elon Musk’s Tesla would envy. After buying Cruise Automation for $1.5 billion, Barra is taking vast resources from parts of the business that make money and moving them toward businesses that (so far) lose mountains of it. But before any of her ambitions become reality, she needs to settle a 46,000-autoworker strike. (Bloomberg) 

“Make no mistake, we are not here just to compete in this new world … we are here to win.”

The Terminator ready for a comeback: The first Terminator movie, released 35 years ago this October, was the movie that turned Austrian immigrant Arnold Schwarzenneger into an American icon. Arnold still remembers the day he became a U.S. citizen 36 years ago. When asked if the American Dream is still alive, he says: “People everywhere, no matter how much they dump on America, no matter how much people laugh at Trump right now all over the world—they want to come to America. Because they know that one president, one man, cannot change this country.” (Men’s Health)

“What happens when you’re a foreigner is you have the work ethic. You know that you have to struggle from the beginning.” 

Wall Street’s cult hero: Jim Grant, the founder of Wall Street’s favorite financial newsletter, Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, was among the first to sound the alarm in the run-up to the financial crisis. Over the past decade, however, Grant’s has been wrong on a number of high-profile issues, such as its 2011 prediction of inflation and its bearish take on Bridgewater Associates which led to an unprecedented retraction on CNBC. So why do Grant’s ideas remain as popular as ever? (Institutional Investor)

“Nobody’s going to be right all the time. Our job was to make people stop and think.”

The feminist writer under fire: In her short professional life, Lauren Duca has been held up as both a feminist icon of her generation and a phony quasi-journalist who has taken advantage of a few lucky moments in her life. The truth, the reporter finds, just depends on what version of herself she allows you to see. This profile starts with a discussion about Duca’s new book and ends with her entire New York University class filing a formal complaint against her about her lack of professionalism, inappropriate comments about her personal life, and the belittling of students. (BuzzFeed)

“In a way, she is that ‘worst idea’ that conservatives think liberals are.”

The movie star that doesn’t want to be a star: Yes, this is yet another profile of Brad Pitt. But it’s good! Pitt, one of the greatest movie stars of our time, doesn't actually act much anymore. He has just gradually receded into his own life and pursuits, which in the past few years have been turbulent and included a spectacularly public divorce. In Hollywood he's increasingly become more of a producer and power broker, while in his daily life, he’s turned more and more inward. (GQ) 

“I hit this point in the late '90s or early 2000s, where I realized I was chasing these interesting [roles], yet I was failing to live as interesting a life as I thought I could.”

The billionaire and the environmentalist: Martin Selig is an 82-year-old Trump supporter in liberal Seattle. His daughter Jordan is a 32-year-old environmentalist. He’s a blunt-spoken legend in the local real estate scene. She’s eager to put her stamp on the family business she’ll likely take over. The father-daughter team don’t always agree, but they have ambitious plans for Seattle starting with a 15-story tower that collects rainwater and comes with $1 million worth of solar panels to generate more energy than it consumes. (Bloomberg)

“He’s a master opportunist. He does projects that others are unwilling or refuse to do.”

COMPANIES TO WATCH.

The Nike of sleep: We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. And mattress-in-a-box startup Casper is very much capitalizing on that sleep. Because a mattress is not a recurring purchase, Casper needs to offer you other things to keep you coming back: bedside lights, duvets, bed frames, and dog beds. Now, it wants to offer you sleep coaching via a sleep evangelist. The question is: How far are you willing to go for a good night’s sleep? (The New York Times)

“It’s a very intimate experience when you’re having to say: ‘O.K., so what’s happening in your shoulders? How do your hips feel? How are you situated in the bed?’”

Vice’s next pivot: This spring, as part of Vice’s annual Weed Week around 4/20, a Vice producer came up with the idea to make a video in which Lil Yachty, the rapper, would try to set the Guinness World Record for rolling the world’s heaviest blunt. The idea was approved, but the amount of weed that was purchased and sent to the Vice office was enough to qualify them as a marijuana distributor. Two senior employees were fired. Vice’s lawlessness is what has previously given it an edge, but now it’s standing in the way of finding a willing buyer. (New York Magazine)

“The pursuit of growth was everything for the previous ten years and on Friday we closed offices that — I gotta be honest — I did not know existed.”

THROWBACK.

The NFL coach searching for his family: I’m normally suspicious of stories with headlines that claim they’re “jaw-dropping,” but this one totally lives up to the hype. At 44 years old, Kansas City Chiefs running backs coach Deland McCullough went searching for his biological parents. What he found out will stop you in your tracks & make you realize life is just a series of weird coincidences. (ESPN)

“Being irresponsible is not neutral. When you’re irresponsible, someone becomes responsible for what you’ve been irresponsible for.”


If you enjoyed this piece, click the button below to sign up for a free subscription: