🤯Unknown Unknowns #121 - On Taste
The last few days, I’ve thought more about what makes me happy, and one consistent theme that isn’t readily apparent is taste.
Building a sense of taste makes me happy.
It’s taken a long time to figure this out. If you asked me what I liked about my job, I would have said that I enjoy solving puzzles and learning new things.
I had a similar answer when talking about why I enjoy my hobbies.
I always thought the connection was that I was inherently curious. But now I realize that I have an intrinsic desire to cultivate my taste.
A sense of taste is recognizing quality, in understanding what makes something good.
I don’t care to have taste in everything. So the first step in acquiring taste is discovering what you want to have taste in. You can do this through consuming. The literal example is the taste of food. By trying out a range of foods, you can decide whether you care if you know if a dish is good or not.
The next step is refining. What foods do you like? What foods do you not like? What about those foods do you like? If you try other foods with those characteristics, do you like them?
And the final step is expressing. Can you alter a dish to make it taste better? Can you come up with your own dish that has quality?
Notice I didn’t say what quality is. Quality is individual to a person and their current circumstances. If you’re slightly hungry but need to eat right now, a ten-course banquet wouldn’t be quality for you. On the other hand, if you have an extreme sensitivity to bitterness, 99% dark chocolate won’t be quality for you.
Acquiring taste is available in anything. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, taste is very tangible. What principles and techniques lead to my not getting my ass kicked? In climbing, taste can be more subjective. Not only, “Does this combination of techniques allow me to get to the top of the wall?”, but possibly “Was it efficient and did I enjoy the movement?” Taste can be found in any endeavor from choosing a stock to invest in, to writing, to building a house.
Expressing taste is the ability to improve through iteration. Can you predict, improve, and execute the next OODA loop? Can you have a good opinion on what needs to be done? Can you figure out a plan? Can you execute? Can you judge what went wrong and how to fix it on the next iteration?
The failures in my life were a result of not pursuing taste. Why did I become bored of my finance career? I truly didn’t care if my models didn’t predict reality and the company used my models to justify decisions rather than make decisions. The models were garbage in, garbage out. Good taste in financial modeling should relate to their predictive power, not whether they supported the strategy of the latest exec who won a power struggle.
Monolithic, hierarchical companies don’t allow you to express your taste. Your opinions need to be rubber-stamped by the authorities.
In many companies, there is a principal-agent problem. There are hidden incentives and hidden motives. For example, an investment company’s real business is to increase AUM, not increase returns. If your taste is to increase returns at the possible expense of decreasing AUM (higher volatility, change in strategy, move from “common knowledge” to maverick) you won’t be allowed to express your taste.
Expressing your taste can conflict with advancing in a company.says that you can’t run away from the experiences and skills that you’ve learned before.
During my transition I repressed my skills entirely in service of the whole. I went far too far in the other direction. Rather than pick pursuits I enjoyed, I decided to sacrifice myself. When I entered my midlife crisis I focused on pursuing overtly “meaningful” career paths like social worker, hospice nurse or psychologist. None of these played to my strengths, because I didn’t think I had any.
In clumsily trying to transcend to the next level of growth, to what I thought was a “meaningful life”, I rejected the skills that had got me that far. - Tom Morgan, Pull Yourself Together
When we reject our circumstances, we can throw the baby out with the bathwater and deny the taste that we’ve developed so far. We need to learn how to express our taste for ourselves, not for other people.
Writing of the Week:
I’ve been writing unpolished, around 100-word mini-essays. Just reflections on ideas from podcasts or things on the news. Here are the latest:
2️⃣ The First Move
1️⃣ An amazing podcast on happiness and life.
“Happiness is not a feeling. Feelings are evidence of happiness.” —Arthur Brooks
“The Dalai Lama always says you shouldn't have what you want, you should want what you have.” —Arthur Brooks
2️⃣ I wonder if we have a complete misunderstanding between what we think we want and what we actually want.
If we accept that present state immersion, mindfulness, flow, whatever you want to call it is our best way to achieve happiness, then the happiest life might not be a particularly memorable one. -
3️⃣ If doing something weird makes you happy and doesn’t harm anyone else, why do we think it’s weird? One of the most thought-provoking essays I’ve read in a while.
4️⃣ As I wrote the opening essay, it occurred to me that the idea of taste is similar to “arete” from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (and that may subconsciously be where the idea for my essay came from). Arete was translated as quality.
I enjoyed the book when I read it about ten years ago, I appreciated the idea as an aspirational idea but I didn’t understand how to implement the idea. Maybe I will go back and reread the book with the above three points in mind.
5️⃣ And I just heard of a newly published book called Areté. I just bought it, but haven’t read it yet.
Idea of the Week:
Instagram filters, but for audio.
Building on the last issue’s idea, combining AI-generated transcripts with text-to-speech AI should allow you to transform any audio. Wouldn’t it be cool to speed up or slow down speech, change accents, or even have different voices? It would be like a personal graphic equalizer on steroids.
Quotes of the Week:
“The reason that most of us are unhappy most of the time is that we set our goals not for the person we’re going to be when we reach them, but we set our goals for the person we are when we set them." - Jim Coudal
The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile. - Bertrand Russell
You can find more of my writing at chr.iswong.com.
Questions, suggestions, complaints? Email me at [email protected].
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Leaving you in peace,