2018-04-16 concepts

Cities and ambitions, the submarine, negotiating

Hey all -

I tried to write less this time because I highly recommend almost all the readings. Once again I failed.

+ what I learned or rediscovered recently #

* Cities and ambitions

Paul Graham has an interesting insight that when you live in certain cities, you feel it. Cities have a certain personality: Boston’s is intelligence, New York’s is money, Paris’ is style, DC’s is about being an insider. The list goes on.

Why is that? Because people have certain personalities, and people attract like people, and the highest concentration of those people live in cities.

Paul has a lot more to say in the essay - like how living in cities mostly matters for your critical years, as well as the importance of sampling multiple cities - but my takeaway was this:

Location really matters.

It’s easy to get caught up in this or that job, or maybe what’s a good investment, or where your partner lives. But I think one thing is indisputable: the city will shape who you are.

I felt this when I lived in Montreal, which was chic and stylish and cool. Boston was academic. New York is work work work. All of these cities changed who I am, for better and for worse. I hadn’t realized this before I settled in each city, but now I do: the choice of city will play a major role in who I become. The city defines the culture around you, the people you meet, and the opportunities you’ll have.

* The Submarine

Here’s another good one from Paul Graham titled “The Submarine.”

The lede:

Why do the media keep running stories saying suits are back? Because PR firms tell them to. One of the most surprising things I discovered during my brief business career was the existence of the PR industry, lurking like a huge, quiet submarine beneath the news. Of the stories you read in traditional media that aren’t about politics, crimes, or disasters, more than half probably come from PR firms.

* Negotiating

This is by far the best piece I’ve ever read on negotiation[1]. I send this article to everyone who’s applying for jobs, but it’s really useful elsewhere as well. Many of our day-to-day interactions - whether or not we realize it - incorporate some element of negotiation.

The importance of negotiation became apparent to me the last time I was applying for jobs. I had read this article and decided I’d just copy it exactly. I learned a lot. I timed getting my offers at the same time, played them against each other, and even myself assigned a deadline to some companies. Holy crap.

But the most important takeaway I learned was about information.

When I spoke with internal HR groups in previous job cycles, I wondered why they were always equivocating - they seemed to say a lot without saying anything at all. Yet the questions they asked were super precise, like “How much do you currently make?” and “Do you have other offers?” and “What other companies are you applying to?” For those early job cycles, I naively answered everything - we were all being nice and cordial, weren’t we?

Only later did I realize that their entire goal was quite literally to extract information without giving any in return. You could say it was a pure information trade, and I was on the losing end. So I made sure to not make the same mistake during my most recent job cycle.

I mimicked recruiters exactly: smile a lot, express your interest, never divulge any information and make lame excuses. And it worked - I am sure I received offers which I wouldn’t have otherwise.

At one level, yes, you should negotiate during your job hunt. But at a higher level, I learned that negotiation is in large part about information trading - and you have to be aware of what information is being traded. Otherwise you’ll run into people like recruiters, except they won’t be recruiters: they’ll be salespeople or business partners or colleagues or maybe even friends.

I don’t want to imply that you should never give information - I actually think that’s an awful idea. There are many times when you should give full information because it benefits both parties mutually (a “non-zero-sum game”). But this experience taught me to be more sensitive to that information trade, and most importantly, to think just a little bit more before I speak.

Thanks for reading,


[1] Admittedly I haven’t read much on this topic - I heard The Art of the Deal is actually pretty good.