Mentor Notes: Nat Eliason

Nat Eliason is the founder of the marketing agency Growth Machine and co-founder of Cup & Leaf tea.

Basically, his work encompasses marketing a lot.

In his site, he writes about psychology, self-education, entrepreneurship, marketing, philosophy, health, finance, and more.

It’s interesting that we share the same interests, he’s great at what he does, and he’s publicly sharing many of his life lessons.

I made him a mentor through the marketing content in his blog, but that quickly changed when I stumbled upon the hard-earned wisdom he shares in his site.

In fact, he has this article titled “How to Make Anyone Your Mentor… Without Asking” and coincidentally, that’s also what I’ve been doing since the beginning. It’s just recently that I’ve started taking notes seriously so I can share them. By the way, this is a form of productivity philosophy I’ve learned from him: leverage what you’re going to do anyway.

What I liked about his content is the way it really changes your way of thinking–they’re as powerful as books, except they’re shorter and much more actionable. And again, he’s really great with leveraging: His info product–his “brain”–shows this a lot.

I stumbled upon his blog while I was trying to find books on Stoicism–I didn’t know where to start. Upon my arrival, I saw he had marketing articles, then I saw some productivity articles and decided to take a look–I wasn’t disappointed.

The Incredible Value of Mental Models in a World of Infomania

“Sometimes data and tactics are necessary, but I often find when I focus on the core, the tactics become obvious, or at least simpler to pick up and understand.”

  • In the same way, when I’m learning any heavy concept from textbooks, I focus on the big picture first. Instead of tactics, learn principles. Principles help you generate tactics on your own, anyway. (Edit: Turns out this is one of the “Principles for Living” in Farnam Street’s blog. +1 for life.)

Mental models are valuable because it allows you to adopt a “new lens” for seeing problems. I think this is even more valuable because there’s a tendency to see problems in the wrong way. As they say, if all you have is a hammer, every problem gets treated like a nail.

For example, retention of information isn’t an exposure problem, yet most students just re-read the material. Rather, retention is a forgetting problem. The only way to solve a forgetting problem is to practice recall. In fact, self-testing (more like “feedback loops”) is the mental model for accelerated learning.

The following notes are some of Nat’s mental models as stated in the article. This article definitely put my feelings into words. (Or maybe I’m just deluded. Anyway, let’s continue.)

Avoid artificial complexity. I haven’t read his article about this yet, but intuitively, I’m resonating with his point here. A lot of advice online seems to only complicate problems. And, the more “tactics” you receive, the more cluttered your brain becomes. The combination of tactics becomes the new problem. If we’d just consume information in a structured way, e.g. from a good book, then we’ll really be able to think differently.

Lindy Rule. This concept is popularized by Nassim Taleb in Antifragile (It’s on my reading list, too) which says that the amount of time the book is in print is also the amount of time it’s likely to remain. For example, if Stoicism books lasted for 2000 years, it’s likely to last for another 2000. It’s a good heuristic for gaining maximum wisdom in minimum time.

And here are some Productivity Mental Models that Nat uses himself.

  • Efficiency vs. Effectiveness. Getting things done faster or getting the right things done.
  • Parkinson’s Law. This says that constraints actually help, than harm, your efficiency. Basically, work will expand if you set a long deadline but will shrink if it’s immediately needed.
  • Artificial Complexity. Already stated earlier.
  • Discipline Equals Freedom. I don’t agree completely with this because it can be taken quite differently if a person has an instant gratification mindset. For example, trying to be “disciplined” for a certain result means focusing on the outcome too much.
  • Systems vs. Goals. I actually created an article about this with a story of Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, my opinion on this is, little by little, changing. It’s more like Systems AND goals now–and focusing on goals alone is counterproductive.

“We can do a similar breakdown with exercise. If you understand antifragility and the second law of thermodynamics, you’ll have the basis for most training programs, and you won’t make excuses for failure to lose weight or lack of muscle gain.”

  • Here’s the power of mental models. It gives you the ability to solve your own problems without getting cluttered by useless advice online. By the way, for those of you who don’t know: Antifragility is a property of systems that increase in capability to thrive as a result of stressors–things that gain from disorder.

“The opportunity cost of reading a book is not reading another book.”

  • This is where I easily got stuck recently. Now, I base my reading list on my mentors’ recommendations and avoiding the recommendations of the masses. Reviews are easily faked, FYI. Anyway, I’m leaning more on reading books that require real effort to go through–because the only way to get smarter by reading is to read harder books.

“So how do you assess which books to read? The method I’ve settled on now is their potential impact on my mental models (unless I’m trying to solve a very specific problem). The latest business book is unlikely to provide and valuable mental model, or if it does, it’ll be one idea spread out over 250 pages, 200 of which you can skip.”

  • This got me thinking: “My bigger guides give “mindsets” as mental models, but I haven’t thought of that deliberately when creating my other articles.” I might just revise a couple of posts on the blog.

“If they’re not going to provide some fundamental mental model value to you (decomplication, infomania, runway), or help you solve a very specific problem in a complete way (learning marketing, building a lifestyle business, meeting people), then it shouldn’t be written about. Both because it’s rude to waste your time, and the opportunity cost of writing about it is a waste of mine.”

  • This is a big takeaway: When creating something for other people, determine the fundamental mental model or philosophy behind it first. It determines if it’s worth writing about. When consuming information, do inspectional reading first and see if it provides a mental framework. I think this will influence how I create content from now on.
  • Compressed into a single sentence: Consume and create knowledge, not isolated information. My reflection on this is if I’m just sharing lists, I’m just diluting the power behind each list item. There’s something called the “list-length effect” and I think it’s related to this. Merely listing unrelated items without much context isn’t useful, except maybe when listing books I’ve liked. But a list of tips? Not likely to happen anytime soon.

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