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What it Means to Be a Contrarian (and why it pays)

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how to be a contrarianAlternate title: Climb to the top or stay with the flock.


I’m a contrarian.

You can tell by the way I look–like a James Bond Villain (albeit without a white cat in my lap).

But being a contrarian is not about looking cool. . .

Being a contrarian means doing and thinking in unconventional ways.

And that, I’ve always done.

Contrarianism is often thought of as an investor mindset, but you don’t need to be an investor (of money) to benefit from it.

Let it be known: Investor mentality is all-encompassing.

(And the same goes for being a contrarian.)

You can see it this way. . .

what it means to be a contrarian

Herd mentality is the default state of being, and it is never any good in the modern world, except if you just want to fit in.

–It works if you are a cheerful, attractive woman, without any particular ambitions in life. But that’s about it.

Being unreactive–like a stoic–is mandatory for above-average success.

Being a contrarian is typically necessary to be highly successful in all areas of life today.

But… being a contrarian does in no way guarantee success.

Being a Contrarian is NOT about:

  1. Trying to think up a super smart theory or a unique idea 1.
  2. Being opposite or different just because–like a rebelling teenager.

Being a Contrarian IS about:

  1. Avoiding the stupidity of the vulgar crowd 2.
  2. Avoiding common easy-to-commit mistakes.
  3. Actively seeking out new or alternative viewpoints of a topic.
  4. And, challenging yourself to think more and/or better.

–At first, this is something you do; something you practice. Then it becomes who you are. (Hopefully while you are young, and your brain is at its peak.)

Why it Can Pay to Be a Contrarian

  1. Because most people don’t know how to think.
  2. Because even when people do think, they only go with the principle of least effort and skip to conclusions 3.
  3. Because conventional wisdom and mainstream thinking only ever leads to mediocrity, and never success.

How to Be a Contrarian

In my last article about former hedge fund manager Mikael Syding there were a few comments about contrarianism.

Commenter Abgrund said something smart:

abgrund 1

To which I responded:

abgrund contrarian 2

Abgrund is someone who has a very contrarian standpoint, and earlier when a commenter on SGM wondered, “what does it take to be a contrarian?” he wrote this answer:

abgrund contrarian

I agree with this almost entirely, but I would phrase it a little bit differently:

  • You don’t necessarily have to be smarter than other people–although it definitely helps–you just have to be willing to THINK MORE about some topic than other people.
  • Yes, you have to be mentally unreactive. I call it autonomy of mind 4.
  • You have to always do battle with confirmation bias. When you’re young, because you’ve been socially conditioned. When you’re older, because it grows stronger with age and hinders you from breaking out of your mental homeostasis and thinking outside the box.

In addition to that, to be a successful contrarian, you must also be

Pure of Heart

 

How to Be Pure of Heart

Being pure of heart means that:

  • You are aware of the existence of homeostasis.
  • You know how to distinguish homeostasis from “intuition” with decent accuracy (this will be dealt with in detail in my upcoming book Breaking out of Homeostasis).
  • You have conditioned yourself to act on inspiration and creativity instead of letting homeostasis justify inaction.

I don’t know how many people are pure of heart.

I’m guessing maybe 1-5%, tops.

People who are pure of heart generally are doing something they enjoy, and they’re above average at it. 5

A Contrarian Must Have Both of These Characteristics

For as the military strategist Carl von Clausewitz said: 6

If the mind is to emerge unscathed from this relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.7

John D. Rockefeller Had Both

Edward T. Bedford, one of the top executives of Standard Oil (and later a successful businessman in his own right), said this about Rockefeller:

 Mr. Rockefeller was really a superman. He not only envisaged a new system of business upon a grand scale but he also had the patience, the courage, and the audacity to put it into effect in the face of almost insuperable difficulties, sticking to his purpose with a tenacity and confidence [that were] simply amazing.

The Contrarian is Real in a World of Fakes

The contrarian accepts the complexities of life. He is perfectly OK to say “I don’t know” when he doesn’t know. He does not cling to comforting illusions:

Having his own identity, he has no need for the security of an ideology or a panacea. He knows that life is a quest for uncertainty; that the only certain fact of life is uncertainty; and he can live with it. He knows that all values are relative, in a world of political relativity. Because of these qualities he is unlikely to disintegrate into cynicism and disillusionment, for he does not depend on illusion.

–Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals

Lee Kuan Yew Was a Contrarian

Lee Kuan Yew was the “founder” of Singapore. Like Rockefeller, he was a superman contrarian. He had both the intelligence and the backbone to stand up to the idiocy which passes for politics in most countries 8.

Thanks to his life’s work, Singapore is now the most economically successful country in history. But its success–as explained by Lee Kuan Yew–is NOT conventional by any means:

….it requires a GROWN-UP election. One that understands that there ARE trade-offs, that there IS a price, that this is NOT what comes naturally. We are here because we did MANY THINGS which went AGAINST THE GRAIN. But which were NECESSARY to make a cohesive, coherent people out of a disparate, often conflicting, often colliding multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-linguist groups.

Lee Kuan Yew was one of the most important men in the last 100 years, and what thanks does he get? People in the mainstream either have no idea who he was, or they think he was an “evil dictator”. Ugh.

“Why,” you ask?

Because they’re idiots.

Because what he did was SO DIFFERENT from the thinking of most people that they (in their ignorance) cannot help but to mistake it for being “wrong”.

But if it WORKS, then it’s not “wrong”.

Ted Turner, the Creative Contrarian:

Ted Turner is the founder of CNN and a “serial-pioneer”.

Ted is another exemplary contrarian:

Confronted with a problem I’ve always looked for an unconventional angle and approach.

Here are 5 examples of how Ted solved problems in unconventional ways.

1) Ted Turner vs Debate Team

Ted was on the debate team in high school. They were given a question. Everyone immediately started talking about what arguments to use.

Except Ted. . . who said:

Let’s see if we can interpret the question differently.

It turned out they could, and then they won the championship because they caught everyone by surprise. All the other teams had interpreted the question in basically the same way, but with minor differences 9

I hope they thanked Ted for winning.

2) Ted Turner vs Angry Widow

When Ted had just started working for his dad’s billboard business, there was an angry widow who had a big house in an optimal location for placing a billboard. Every billboard company had tried to convince her, but failed, and  given up.

But Ted didn’t give up.

He made it a part of his weekly routine to go and talk to her until he had built rapport.  She then would let him into her home. After spending a considerable amount of time there, he realized that her house had really poor air circulation.

So he asked her if she wanted some top-of-the-line air conditioners. She agreed. In exchange, he just wanted to put up billboards on her house.

That’s what real salesmanship looks like.10

3) Ted Turner vs TV Stations: Round #2

Ted studied his industry and saw that every one of his competitors were putting out mind-numbing shit for dumb people:

From watching the competition I believed that most of what the networks were airing was garbage, full of gratuitous violence, sex, and stupidity. Knowing how quickly TV viewership was growing, it troubled me to see how much junk people were watching.

So he decided to put out content for smart people instead. . .

. . . Just like I’m doing with Mikael Syding in the Swedish podcast industry, with our show 25 Minuter. And guess what? 11

4) Ted Turner vs Networks

Other networks aired talk shows in the evening. So Ted decided CNN would show movies instead.

When other networks aired religious programming on Sundays., Ted decided CNN would show ordinary shows.

Sometimes it pays to do things differently.

Ted said:

I look around to see what the competition is running, figure out whose tastes aren’t being met, and provide them with an alternative.

5) Ted Turner vs Hiring Employees

When Ted started CNN they hired 300 employees in one batch!

That was a big undertaking, and employees had to move to Atlanta for the job.

This was a problem, because the people already in the TV industry were entitled and didn’t want to do it. But Ted found a way to get around it–by hiring married couples.

Again, CNN was first to do this in the the TV industry, and it worked great.

Is Ted Turner awesome, or what?

Paul Graham, Software Entrepreneur Contrarian

Paul Graham is a smart artist/software/investor guy who’s a serial entrepreneur. Here are some examples of how he’s done things in a contrarian way:

  • People were writing software for desktop computers using Windows’ programming language; Paul refused to do that and ended up creating the world’s first server-based software12. His company Viaweb then created the world’s first online store, and got acquired by Yahoo for $50M.
  • People were (still are) writing short, gossipy blog posts on sites (this was way before WordPress was around). Paul then started writing longer and more serious essays. They are now popular.
  • Investors in Silicon Valley (still) follow the traditional model for venture capitalism. Paul created Ycombinator (now the largest VC firm in the world), with a revolutionary new business model for “batch financing” IT companies.

Now… Paul’s a clever guy, but he didn’t (intentionally) set out to do all these things from the start. He simply followed contrarian principles:

I deliberately ignored these things because I knew they weren’t interesting. You can do a lot by avoiding as opposed to seeking good.

YCombinator is Contrarian

The major difference between Ycombinator and other Silicon Valley venture capitalists is that a typical VC funds 50-80 companies over an entire career, whereas YC funded 250 startups last year alone!

Paul Graham gives another example of how they do things differently from conventional VCs:

One of the most fascinating things that we have done with scale is figured out how short a time you can interview someone in order to decide whether to fund them or not. We decide in 10 minutes.

By now, you’re probably thinking, “damn, it seems pretty cool to be one of those snappy contrarian fellows!”

But It’s Not Easy Being a Contrarian

. . . because it’s rarely the popular thing to do.

And it takes effort too!

How to be a contrarian

[Pictured: A contrarian to the left, Homeostasis Dwellers to the right.]

And. . .

. . . sometimes the viscous stupidity of the vulgar crowd wins ANYWAY (during your lifetime), like the guy who came up with the idea of continental drift.

It has been said13 that all great ideas are first ignored, then ridiculed and resisted, and finally they’re accepted or rejected.

But, even when a great idea is accepted…

…its victory is almost NEVER unanimous.

Take the physicist Max Planck, for example.14

Poor fellow (not really, but in the Misunderstood-Genius-Kind of Way).

In Summary

Being contrarian is a way of life.

This is a fascinating topic and I could go on forever about it. . .

–But I won’t.

I gotta go now.

Next time I’ll tell you about some cool ways to “profit from contrast”.

Adios amigo.

P.S

One more thing.

You want to be a contrarian, but you also want to keep it to yourself.

For, as the philosopher Baltasar Gracian said:

One has to live with others, and others are mostly ignorant.


Question:

Have you thought about this sort of thing before? If so, what’s your opinion?

 

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  1. those things are nice, and if you can do that, that’s awesome. But it’s not fundamentally what being a contrarian is about.

  2. . . .which typically stems from mental laziness combined with negative crowd psychology.

  3. (so when you skip to conclusions you’ll typically end up in the same camp as most others are. Which is often wrong.).

  4. and it is the #1 criteria I look for when filtering new acquaintances, as to whether or not they are worth my time

  5. This is not necessarily because they’re intelligent, it’s just because they take more action than the average person (who dulls his instincts by numbing and dumbing himself down).

  6. about what it takes for a commander to deal successfully with risk and uncertainty

  7. The same could be said about (successful) scientists. Like Pasteur or Einstein.

  8. Lee Kuan Yew was successful in:

    (1) Creating a unified culture with shared core values,

    (2) keeping a stable political climate (without a bunch of oppositional parties tearing apart the unity and solidarity of the country, making it slow and hard to reach important decisions),

    (3) thinking ahead and preventing problems (as opposed to lazily reacting to them after they’ve happened, and cannot be stopped),

    and (4) to run the country like company and pay his ministers top-of-the-line salaries, like CEOs of big corporations.

     

  9. which basically always happens when you have a majority decision.

  10. Ted found a problem which was genuinely bothering her, he proposed a solution, he solved it without any effort required on her part, and she compensated him for this.

  11. It works. We’re #1 in iTunes’ New and Noteworthy categories for Business and Education and #2 in Sweden altogether.

    25 Minuter contrarian

    I guess the smart people have just about had it with listening to dumb-ass talking heads (who do nothing but gossip and glorify mundane life, conformity and mediocrity).

     

  12.  “web based app”, the PR department started calling it to increase its coolness factor.

  13. by the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer originally, I think.

  14. He was right, but he was never acknowledged for it by his ideological enemies. “We didn’t beat them, they died,” he said, with bitter disappointment.

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Comments

  1. A very good article. Thanks for writing it. Lots of good stuff here. As usual.

  2. Hey Ludvig,

    Shit.

    This is exactly what I’ve been contemplating lately. I believe I’ve always been hard-wired for thinking differently than people. Then social conditioning begins creeping into your life, often when you are too young to comprehend what is happening, then you become weak .

    During those youthful days I’d spend time enjoying my own company. I didn’t give two shits what the neighborhood kids thought of me. I didn’t give a thought to how different playing by yourself with rocks and playing imaginary games was. My head was firmly planted in the clouds,

    Then I went to school and became broken through my experiences. Social conditioning began forming its roots, teachers applying labels, classmates bullying me and I became weak minded before I knew what happened

    How we respond to stressors and challenges shapes who we become, whether we grow or stagnate.

    You’re correct about this being a lifestyle. You can’t turn around once you’ve seen how pathetic you’ve been. You succeed when you understand that the only constant is change(and the uncertainty it brings.) Fool yourself if you want but facts are facts, you’re either improving or you are not.

    Being anything other than yourself is fake. You can’t become something to please other people and you certainly cannot allow people to influence you negatively. These are mistakes I’ve made since I left childhood behind. They are mistakes I refuse to repeat, yet I’m grateful that I learned from those mistakes.

    Avoid big mistakes and don’t fall victim to the “influence” of others, Live YOUR life, never compromising or backing down. Most importantly: NEVER allow people to determine your self worth.

    – Shawn

    • I really agree with this. I just wouldnt have put it as eloquently. Especially these two things you say:

      “How we respond to stressors and challenges shapes who we become, whether we grow or stagnate.”

      Plus

      “Being anything other than yourself is fake”

    • Right.

      Like my friend told me an hour ago: “There is no point in trying to fit in if you’re destined for greatness.”

  3. This is probably the best article you’ve written in my opinion. Or the one about evolutionary mismatches. Both could be expanded on for books or some products in the future maybe? Just a thought.

    When it comes to thinking contrary I had given it some thought but nothing impressive. I like how you lay it out here, very pedagogic, especially in the beginning.

  4. Thank you Ludvig for your support. Naturally I find your article fascinating, and (inevitably) here are some randomly assorted comments:

    There is a kind of mass-marketed faux-contrarian “individualism” that is ubiquitous in America (and elsewhere? I don’t know). American society has long been noted as one of the most rigidly conformist in the world. At the same time, Americans paradoxically like to think of themselves as “rugged individualists” and have a strong tendency to identify with “subversive” or “independent” groups – but only groups where they have plenty of like-minded company and are still accepted by mainstream society. Like the sniveling nebbishes of the insipid media-created “Occupy Wall Street” movement, Americans want to pretend they are “different” or “rebellious” though they would literally prefer death to scorn. Every last American, once you get to know him, turns out to harbor the notion that he is some sort of rebel. The most spineless conformists of all, teenagers, are obsessed with adopting an “individual” identity that consists entirely of popular, mainstream-approved, pre-packaged “dissent”. Here is one of the more bizarre examples of American “non-conformity”: http://redhatsociety.com/

    I do think one has to be smarter than other people to be a successful contrarian. Doing more thinking is obviously a requisite, but one must also think /better/ (resist cognitive biases) and learn more. Having a genius IQ is certainly not necessary but the raw physical component of intelligence is undeniably important. Someone with an IQ of 90 cannot succeed as a contrarian (and probably isn’t reading this).

    Some common, easy-to-commit mistakes that you have to be a contrarian to avoid:
    1. Religion.
    2. Debt.
    3. Marriage.
    4. Television.
    5. Facebook.

    The old fable of The Emperor’s New Clothes is a classic illustration of contrarianism. But in real life, the contrarian never has it so easy. If the fable had a realistic ending, the boy who failed to go along with the crowd would have been mocked, beaten, and perhaps hanged. Historically, contrarians (especially in religious matters) often risked their lives. In the modern West, outright murder is unlikely, but the best any real contrarian can hope for is constant suspicion. And one cannot entirely “keep it to oneself” without contantly lying by both word and deed. In such event, one cannot help but eventually become what one pretends to be.

    “Pure of heart” is an interesting name for an attitude toward homeostasis. Do you associate this attitude with authenticity, integrity, and/or ethics?

    Funny thing, when I think of “mind-numbing shit for dumb people”, CNN is one of the first things that comes to mind. But I suppose there is plenty of television that is much worse. I’ve noticed that SGM itself seems to be based on a contrarian strategy: writing solid, thoughtful content for intelligent readers is the exact opposite of all popular advice on how to make a “successful” website. I hope you stick with it and I hope it works for you.

    On the benefits of being a contrarian: obviously there can be tangible benefits (just as there are tangible penalties). All the great innovators of history have been contrarians. But I think the intangible benefits, like confidence and clear thought, are just as important.

    • Redhatsociety lol. I’m getting a ticket for their “Menopause the Musical” right now.

    • Also, when you say contrarians often risked their lives. Do you mean like Galileo vs Christianity? Or Richard Dawkins today?

      • Bruno, Galileo, Copernicus, or any number of religious reformers. I doubt Dawkins is in any real danger as long as he’s careful where he travels in America.

        Before the Enlightenment, pretty much all thinking was entangled with religion and the supernatural, economic activities were ruled with an iron fist by law and custom, and an illiterate agrarian society afforded few opportunities for most people. Almost no one had the ability to be a contrarian investor, or to be an investor at all. Of necessity, most contrarianism was in the realm of, or ran afoul of, religion.

    • You’re welcome Abgrund. I appreciate your comments.

      I agree with your 5 easy-to-commit mistakes.

      “I’ve noticed that SGM itself seems to be based on a contrarian strategy”

      –Crap, you just ruined the intro for my next article. ;)

      Regarding CNN being mainstream and dumbed:
      –Yeah, you’re correct. But it wasn’t so much that way when Ted started it 35 years ago. That happened mostly AFTER he stopped controlling it, in the last decade or so.

    • Interesting as always Abgrund.

  5. I look forward to the next installment.

  6. Great article, I loved reading it (before anyone else could read it hahaha).

  7. Ludvig, in case you haven’t already, read “Zero To One” by Peter Thiel. There is a lot in there about contrarian thinking..

    I just read “the most important thing” which you recommended. So I have a related question.

    How much do you think investing money (as we generally speak of it) in the investment world resembles investing time in the “success” world (for lack of a better term). What exactly are the parallels?

    I know you wrote an article about this but this particular point needs more detail.

    For instance, guys that are conservative with their time spent on their goals end up taking action too late. If they had just picked any damn goal and gone with it they would have accomplished a lot more.

    Arnold in Total Recall says it himself:
    “You can overthink anything. There are always negatives. The
    more you know, the less you tend to do something. If I had known
    everything about real estate, movies, and bodybuilding, I wouldn’ t
    have gone into them. I felt the same about marriage; I might not
    have done it if I’d known everything I’d have to go through. The
    hell with that! I knew Maria was the best woman for me, and
    that’s all that counted.”

    The negative backlash of a seemingly “brash”: decision with your time is also not that significant. For instance if someone quit their job to work on their business. Even if that business fails it’s hardly the end of the world. In the worse case scenario they have to move into grandma’s basement and start right back up again. They end up having a lot of fun doing it. On the other hand guys that are too conservative just end up never getting out of the miserable routine of their lives.

    With time it seems like you can overthink endlessly. You will never have enough of the facts for you to play the “Loser’s Game”.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    • I havent read those books but I know that Arnie cheated on his wife and had a son with his maid.

      I used to think about things like that before but it’s laughable & ironic really……to think about overthinking. Lol.

      When I realized that I stopped doing that. Man who cares if you don’t get the best start in life or what if what if what if. That train of thought is useless because the past is gone.

    • I haven’t read Zero to One in great detail, but I “skimmed” through it in like two hours. It seemed like a good book, but I’m already familiar with much of what Thiel said in it. Probably because I’ve watched some of his talks (he always has similar talking points).

      “How much do you think investing money (as we generally speak of it) in the investment world resembles investing time in the “success” world”

      –A lot. There’s a reason for the saying that “time is money”. Only that many people don’t see it that way, and do not value their time (especially while they’re young, which is when you’re supposed to lay down the foundation, unless you want to be loser).

      “What exactly are the parallels?”

      –Enough to say it’s similar. I don’t want to overthink it ;)

      Maybe it could be a future article.

  8. I also liked your podcast episodes 4 and 5 about this kind of topic, only this is more in depth.

  9. Great distinction between conscious contrarians and mindless non-conformers (who ironically “rebel” in a safe and pre-approved manner).

    I think the real distinction between the two is that the first group strives to optimize their value and the second group wants to be “different” for emotional reasons.

    “I’m not your average girl” -said every average girl ever

    In my view, conscious contrarians adopt the lifestyle/mindset because they’re pragmatists. If “being different” didn’t get results, they’d adopt a better strategy.

    As with everything, it’s important to understand nuances. Sometimes it’s better to conform in a given situation. As long as your conformity isn’t blind, you’ll come out on top.

    Keep what’s efficient and dump the rest.

    Looking forward to reading your book.

    • You are so right about the average girl saying.

    • “I think the real distinction between the two is that the first group strives to optimize their value and the second group wants to be “different” for emotional reasons.”

      –That’s an interesting take on it. You may be right.

      “(who ironically “rebel” in a safe and pre-approved manner).”

      –That’s what (luxury) branding is for, now that we (officially) no longer live in tribes anymore.

      “Keep what’s efficient and dump the rest.”

      –Yes.

  10. I’ve been guilty in the past of being a mindless non-conformist, being different for difference’s sake. I was also self-righteous and believed my own bullshit, a combination that I now find very common among the “non-comformers”.

    Great article as usual Ludvig.

  11. Quick reaction:

    I love the distinction between being a contrarian for it’s own sake (to get attention and stand out), vs being a critical thinker who realizes that in order to achieve the life they want, you’ve got to constantly be creating your own path.

    And no, it’s often not easy. And easy to question everything you’re doing, and if it’s all worthwhile. Especially when you look around and see the masses doing things drastically different. (always be yourself in a world that’s constantly trying to make you the same as everyone else! – E.E. Cummings)

    In the words of a good friend, “the most dangerous prison in the world is the one you’ve built in your own mind.”

    Thanks for all your work, and helping all of us stay conscious and stay free!

    Cheers!

  12. Hi Ludvig,

    Your writing is getting better and better.Excellent article.Any chance of your podcast in English?

    Cheers Bruce

  13. I have always been a contrarian thinker and to steer clear of the herd. I guess part of that has to do with the fact that I am naturally introverted.

    However I also have to say that sometimes it feels quite lonely being contrarian.

    I am sometimes dumbfounded why people act the way they do. For me, it is quite obvious what they are doing is counter-productive to achieving anything they want to achieve, but they somehow don’t realize it and when you point it out to them, they get mad.

    I guess part of the reason for this is that they don’t engage in metacognition. They don’t think about why they act they way they do. Personally, I have gotten a better clarity of why people act they way they do and also why I act the way I do, when I learned about NLP meta-programs. Each person prefers their own meta-programs (sometimes using opposite ones in different situations) and that is the basis of what they say and how they act.

    • ” but they somehow don’t realize it and when you point it out to them, they get mad. ”

      –I know what you mean. I think it’s usually due to (being unconscious of) homeostasis and confirmation bias.

      “I guess part of the reason for this is that they don’t engage in metacognition. ”

      –100% agree.

      “when I learned about NLP meta-programs. ”

      –What’s that? I’ve never read any NLP.
      (I quickly Googled the term right now, but I’d be interested to hear your explanation.)

      • Well NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) meta-programs are a theory of how and why people act the way they do. You basically have some special mental filters and these determine how you react to external stimuli.

        For example, you probably know people who are always late, cannot plan anything and don’t really worry about what is going to happen in the future. This is opposed to people who are usually on time, plan things out and have a solid understanding of the fact that what you do today will impact tomorrow.

        The difference is how these people perceive time. That is one example of a meta-program. Some people are in-time (live in the moment), while others are through-time (meaning they realize the importance of time and the flow of time).

        I have always had friends who were always late, didn’t plan…etc. and I would always get mad at them. However once I found out about NLP meta-programs, it made me view them in a different way and sort of made me better understand why they behave the way they do.

        NLP is controversial in some circles, but if you take it with a grain of salt, it can really explain some human behaviors.

        For a bit more detailed explanation, I wrote some articles on my blog about this:
        http://gainweightjournal.com/personality-types-why-are-you-the-way-you-are-part-1/

        http://gainweightjournal.com/personality-types-why-are-you-the-way-you-are-part-2/

        I think if you understand how you behave and why, it can give you a powerful incentive to change or at least point you out to better techniques for improvement which are in line with your internal make-up.

  14. Where does the term ‘pure of heart’ come from? Wasn’t expecting that at all. And very cool pic depicting homeostasis dwellers and contrarians! I love it man. Did someone make that for you?

  15. Whatever you do, don’t stop writing or sharing your ideas. I’m extremely curious to see where you will be in 10 years, especially in your intellectual development.

  16. fileasphogg says:

    @Ludvig You have a podcast in swedish? Take THAT everyone who mocked me of learning ‘europe’s most useless language’! That said I see it’s on soundcloud and itunes. Any chance of providing us with an RSS feed so that we can register with a podcast client?

  17. Bro, when will you release BOOH?

    I was tired of waiting so I just did some google dorking and found out a link to your old PDF, the one you removed.
    It’s awesome, and I learnt a lot from it. Your writings had inspired me to create my own personal development blog some months ago, which has given me a lot of psychological investment to keep going.
    I assume you are planning something of a wider scope compared to just a free ebook release. Good luck for that.

  18. Great Article! Happy holidays!

  19. I agree wholeheartedly that there’s tons of value in being a contrarian – but don’t be afraid to “follow the crowd” or copy what other people are doing sometimes, too.

    • It may not be a good idea to swim upstream just for the sake of feeling different, but there are many situations in life where an idea’s popularity is itself a cause of that idea’s inferiority, or at least /prima facie/ evidence thereof.

      The worst time to buy stocks, gold, or any other “investment” is when it’s popular. The price has then already been driven by excessive demand to an untenable level.

      If you were trying to win an essay contest on whether the progress of art and science was morally beneficial, you would only stand out from the crowd by taking the negative position – at least during the Enlightenment; these days it might well be the reverse.

      If a book is highly popular and has sequels, movies, etc. you can be certain it is shallow and of no great merit, although it might be entertaining.

      If you go to a popular “nature” park, it will be more crowded than the red light district of Amsterdam, and if you camp you will have to sleep six feet away from three different competing radios.

      If you get a degree in a widely recommended field, you may be in for a harsh surprise four years later when that job market is saturated.

      …etc. etc. from advertising to warfare. Popularity alone doesn’t always make a thing bad, but it’s generally cause for suspicion. Ask yourself – why is this thing popular? Are its adherents in competition with each other? Popular judgment is easily deluded, and direct competition against a vast number of others is almost always a poor choice.

      • Abgrund, your comment made me ponder. I do agree that popularity is generally cause for suspicion. But I’m also curious to know your thoughts.

        “If a book is highly popular and has sequels, movies, etc. you can be certain it is shallow and of no great merit, although it might be entertaining.”
        >> Can you give one example of such a book and why it might be a shallow one in your opinion? Also, how would you answer those 2 questions in your own advice (why is it popular + are its adherents in competition with each other) for this particular book?

      • In the case of books, the readers aren’t in competition and the amount of demand has little or no effect on the price. Nonetheless it may fail the first question, why is it popular? To be popular, besides being (usually) well written and entertaining, a book must be easy to read. Most people will not read or understand a work that makes intellectual or emotional demands on them, but IMO this is the only kind of fiction that has any value.

        As an example I am tempted to cite the notorious Twilight novels, but I haven’t actually read any of them. I’ve read some science fiction, fantasy, and murder mysteries that were moderately popular, many of which were of no value beyond entertainment – e.g. Michael Moorcock.

        Movies, because of the higher investment in their creation, usually try to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the audience, so they provide the best examples of what I am talking about. “Watchmen” is a perfect specimen; a well made and very entertaining movie which was deliberately expunged of the considerable literary and philosophic content of the original comic in order to create something more like a video game – something that would sell to a broader audience.

        If you ask my first question of the Watchmen movie, “why is it popular?”, the answer would have to be that it has lots of eye candy – sex, violence, costumes, sets, SFX. If you ask the same question about the original comic, the answer would be quite different. And although it was well read for a comic, I doubt the number of people who read it (before the movie) was even 2% of the number who saw the movie. You can’t reach a truly mass audience with quality.

      • Anonymous says:

        Why did you put “nature” in quotation marks?

      • “Movies, because of the higher investment in their creation, usually try to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the audience”
        >> That does indeed make sense to me.

        I was wondering then, what you think of the popular Hunger Games series? Do you know about it? I’m not familiar with Watchmen, but since I have read the Hunger Games book (the 1st one) and watched the movie as well, I think I would be able to better relate.

        Thanks, and that’s my last question, promise. xD

      • I have heard the name Hunger Games, but I have to admit that’s the limit of my acquaintance with it, whether book, movie, animal, vegetable, or mineral.

  20. If you don’t have a clear advantage in the game, create one or change the game/the rules. If the game has no true merit or reward, play a different one. If no such one exists, create your own.

  21. FootChase says:

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    This essay reminded me of a passage from”Charisma Myth”(great book, by the way) that one way to set the expectation to be followed is being willing to be independent. At some visceral, evolutionary level we’re all just looking to follow an example. Being able to go without a model is what makes a leader.

    But the difference between a charismatic contrarian and ignored eccentric is giving off the cues that you know what you’re doing. And I think that’s the framework for all of your above points. It’s not so much the level of brilliance but the signalling of brilliance that gets anyone anywhere–e.g. Tesla/Edison.

    Somehow you’ve pulled off a tone of “I act superior, because I am superior.” And I say that sincerely because I followed you here from Startup Bros. You’re signalling is obviously effective.

    Which is the long way to say, I’d be interested to read your thoughts on Showmanship since its kind of implied with a reference to Bond villains and I think it’s a critical second half to the success or failure of being a contrarian.

  22. Boom – being a contrarian it is. Good stuff brotha.

    Keep it up.

  23. I am glad I stumbled upon this reading. Being a teacher there are so many algorithms that we are expected to pass onto our students, however, if my mind does not want to follow those algorithms it would be an injustice for me to make my students follow them. Each persons mind works in its own way and it’s my job as a teacher to expose my students to as many ways as possible so they are comfortable thinking even if its not how the rest of the class is thinking. I think the best thing is when a student brings to my attention an algorithm that I have never seen before. Success…confidence to think differently, to think correctly, the way their mind works and accurately passing it on to others.

  24. This post reminds me of a Mark Twain quote “whenever I find myself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

    And I agree with Abgrund. I have a long time acquaintance that loves to be a contrarian just for the sake of it…he looks like a tool most of the time doing so.

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