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📚 Finished reading: Talent by Tyler Cowen

📚 Finished reading: Talent by Tyler Cowen, and I don’t yet have an answer to my question on its Straussian — Tylerspeak for hidden — meaning. The book is despicable in some places: are you sure you want to pick people committed to their families if that means they will choose to spend time with them over doing more work? — yes, this had struck a nerve — and admirable in others: how to help people who are far from the center of the action in their selected field to even imagine what they can achieve?

I would place it in the “narrow, temporary” quadrant of the breadth/timelessness 2-by-2. It is not for everyone, and it won’t last very long. To pick an example, Cowen and Gross suggest that employers should increase their profile — by blogging, writing books, doing podcasts, basically by doing what Tyler is doing — to increase their profile and the reach of their “soft” network and, ultimately, get more self-referrals from prospective talents who have heard about them. If everyone was to do this, would be it of net benefit to the whole system? I would argue not: the benefit would be to the most prolific and vocal talent-seekers at the expense of an immense amount of noise and all around confusion. And fifty years from now, will people have known about podcasts and blogs? Lindy says no. This doesn’t mean that the book is bad! It’s just not one of the “great” books.

Compare this to my gold standard of a broad/timeless — great — contemporary book: anything from Nassim Taleb’s Incerto, which is coincidentally what taught me about the Lindy effect. If everyone were to internalize its views and the dense network of mental models it brings to the extend they can, and act accordingly, the world would be a bit less of a madhouse. The concepts it talks about being about probability, it is also timeless.

So if your goal is to read only “great” books, well, first of all don’t read anything that came out in the last 5–10 years. But if you want to read “great” book candidates — which I am, let’s be clear, not trying to do this year but may try for 2025 — well, in that case, feel free to give Talent a pass.

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