Expert Knowledge and Unforced Errors

A favorite picture from one of my first daddy-daughter trips, July 2011, just after my son was born. I took our oldest out of the country (!) so my wife could get to know her new baby.

Howard Marks’ latest had a couple of gems:

You may have to be an expert in a field in order to be able to figure out who the true experts are.

True expertise is scarce and limited in scope.

So great and always relevant to decision making.

How to use these insights?

First, ask the experts, who they rate.

It’s a bit like asking your doctor, “what would you do?” rather than, “what do you recommend?”

In finance, Buffett/Munger come up a lot. Both these guys have written a lot of material over the years. How much of it have you read? I am better off re-reading the best-of-the-best.

In your field, you’ll likely have people you rate. Outside of your field… you will be tempted to follow the advice of the same people. This will create the opportunity for unforced errors.

Quick story on that type of error. Last year I went to a conference on complexity and risk. It took a couple hours to realize that I was WAY out of my league quantitatively. Once I realized I was clueless, I grasped the implication of my cluelessness… there was NO WAY I wanted to be on the other side of a trade with these guys.

Further, I had no basis to evaluate the truth, or otherwise, of what they were telling me. By the way, there is a very profitable industry (financial gatekeepers) built on ignoring this reality.

I went to the conference to learn how-to-do but came away with a clear idea about areas where I should not venture.

That was 98% of the discussion. The other 2% of the discussion diverged into my wheelhouse. As soon as the panel strayed into my area it was clear they had no idea what they were talking about. They had forgotten Howard’s advice that true expertise is limited in scope.

The humility to limit the scope of our confidence is near impossible to remember over time.

  • Ask the experts who they rate
  • Stay in the wheelhouse of core competency

Howard ends by encouraging the reader to have…

the humility to recognize when my opinion doesn’t count.

So good, so true!

You can clearly see our collective “need to know” in children. My kids hate it when I tell them I don’t know, or I won’t play-the-game of guessing outcome.

Telling them my opinion doesn’t count creates a lot of cognitive dissonance in their minds. It does not compute.

In my job, errors can be large, time consuming and expensive to exit. As a result, I am always trying not to predict and to point out the limits of my knowledge. Makes me reliable, but a bit boring!

How to use this point.

Make a list of the key areas where you are likely to make a mistake, screw up or hurt someone.

These areas will repeat for decades, trust me, and are where you need to develop the humility to recognize your opinion doesn’t count. Here are mine:

  • Every situation that requires empathy, rather than execution
  • Every situation where I might make a quick verbal reaction in a group

Zoom meetings work great for me. The little bit of friction, to unmute my microphone, cuts my error rate substantially.

Separate from my empathy-deficit, which is balanced by my wife, I have other biases (medicine, science, memory, action over reflection) => these are addressed by remembering to involve other people in my decision making process.

To sum up, the issue isn’t having holes in our abilities.

The issue is letting pride blind us to our biases and not creating systems/teams to reduce our unforced errors, and re-learn from our past mistakes.

Corona Diary 6 May 2020

2020-05-05 13.54.37

New thing => lockdown jiu-jitsu in the front yard!

Daddy G’s School of Self-Defense will roll through the summer, with support from our neighborhood black belt.

The pieces are coming together for our summer Basic Week.

I want our quality of life to be independent of the county’s ability to lock us down, again.


Boulder County announced they were going to let us join the safer-at-home order on Saturday. Phase One opening for Boulder starts this weekend. Tweens, teens and adults must wear masks in stores and wherever social distancing isn’t possible.

At the State level, positives continue at >400 per day. Against this background, the testing positivity rate is trending down and the folks in the hospital with COVID-19 are well down.

Colorado didn’t see the sharp drop in positives that other geographies have experienced. We are far more loose than Hong Kong, a place where I have friends and family.

Cinco de Mayo Taco Tuesday was fun.

2020-05-05 17.59.26-1


I’ve been around world-class practitioners for 30+ years.

  1. I pay attention to people with experience doing. Practitioners, ideally with multiple successful outcomes. The best people rarely come across as smooth. I am biased towards smoothness in presentation.
  2. I pay attention to advice within the practitioner’s domain. For example, Taleb on risk (defer to him) vs Taleb on nutrition (defer to my experience). When we have a positive opinion of someone there is massive cognitive pressure to agree “with everything.” Therefore, I publicly state, often, it is OK to disagree.
  3. I need to remember blindspots and past errors. I have a rich history of these things! Unfortunately, I am hardwired to attribute my mistakes to others. However, what is really happening… my process fails and I repeat a past error.
  4. Decision making needs to be driven by a process that slows me down and makes my errors visible. Every important decision I make is run past 2-5 people. Emotionally, I am looking for approval => another unfortunate hardwiring! At my best, I am open to reasons to avoid taking action.

My life is more sensitive to the impact of a poor decision than another good one.

Something I learned from Charlie Munger, each change is an opportunity for error to enter the system.

Can you explain your decision making process to a child?

It’s a good test of the system.



Related to creating a system to reduce bias…

I apply effort to remind myself that people, who disagree with me, aren’t stupid.

My mind likes to downplay, denigrate and disregard my adversaries, both real and imagined.

When a “bozo” makes a good point, I share with my wife.

Similar to parenting => better outcomes by seeking to increase positive vs negative interactions (inside your head)…

It takes effort to find the good in all people.

Marriage Material

I blew up my first marriage in a year.

If you asked me about it then, not only would I have blamed my ex-spouse, I would have blamed the entire concept of marriage.

Roll forward a couple decades (!) and here’s a lesson that I’m seeking to pass along to my kids.

Sibling bickering is exhausting, painful and universal.

Rather than focusing on “fixing” my kids – who seem healthy, loving and normal – I use conflict as an opportunity to teach.

I wait for the energy to go out of the situation.

Hey, I want to teach you a Jedi mind trick.

When you are upset…

Watch your mind.


It is going to fix on something outside…

…Bella’s voice

…Axel’s question

…Lexi’s tone

…my face


Your mind is going to trick you into thinking that the problem is out there.

Not helpful.

Because you can’t do anything “out there.”


What you can do is pause and ask, “What do I want?”

And you’re going to find something to helpful to do.


Simple, not easy.

Long Term Healthy

Yet another friend convinces a doctor to give her a procedure so she can continue to do what’s causing her pain…

…reminds me of a realization – prescribing is less fun when I see my role in hurting the health and home life of my clients.


Avoid Athletic Ruin

Missing one day of cardio makes me serious, two days off and I’m quiet, three days off and I’m sullen…

Ruin, in an athletic sense, is dealing with the implications of not being able to exercise.

If that rings true then what follows might help.


Given my lifetime of extreme exercise, bike crashes and running injuries, a radiologist could find a lot of things “wrong” with my body.

Knowing that I’m a walking insurance reimbursement opportunity – I stay away from those that profit from unnecessary treatment.

When I pay attention to what follows, my body works great.


Before paying someone to cut, inject or irradiate you…

Rest – addicts seek extreme friends to reassure themselves that an unreasonable lifestyle is sustainable – sometimes I’m the seeker, sometimes I’m the friend.

Lifestyle Modification – winning isn’t important, racing isn’t important – ask a broken down athlete what they miss and you’ll hear a similar story, I wish I could simply get out the door without pain. It’s worth a lot of compromise to maintain my ability to get out the door.

Pre-Habilitation – why not try a world-class rehab program BEFORE you opt for surgery. For non-acute injuries, rest as if you had a procedure then give your best effort to strengthen your body and increase your range of motion.

My demographic takes pride in doing what-it-takes for athletic success. If you want a true challenge then do the above and deal with the internal dialogue that results!


Risk seeking friends – this is wider than athletics.

My past choices have shown that I have the capacity for bad judgement.

  • Elevate my heart rate.
  • Introduce group dynamics and social proof.
  • Surround myself with charismatic risk seekers.

…and you have the recipe for a good time! 😉

It’s also a perfect storm to spin myself into fatigue, injury and depression.

Remember who gets to deal with the wreckage.

Strategies for Good Times

Here are three areas where I fool myself.

Consider Ruin – I’ve done a good job of addressing the risks identified three years ago. So good that, when I asked myself the question, “What can wipe me out?” I quickly answered, “You’re set amigo.” That’s a top-of-the-market sentiment if I ever heard one.

Having mitigated the hazards of leverage, unemployment, litigation, fraud, risk-seeking peers and insolvency… my main risks are health and accidental death.

Do you know your own?

Stay Variable – I was listening to out-of-state visitors rave about the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

They’re right.

Where they go wrong is assuming that buying a condo will enable them to lock in the emotions of beautiful spring day.

I’m just like them.

We’re all just like them.

Good times give us access to additional finance/capital. We often use this money to capitalize luxuries and time.

Stay variable, stay invested and resist the urge to lock in family overheads.

Rebalance Time – the best deals I’ve done have been where I traded money-for-time.

It takes vigilance to carve time to become world-class at things that interest me. Mastery makes me happy.

Social media, marriage, long-term friendships, work/non-work, self/family – I don’t advocate being in balance – I do advocate making an honest assessment and asking myself if I’m OK with where my time allocation will take my life.

What We Don’t See

Twenty-five years ago, I heeded a call to be a better person.

Just a bit better.

Frankly, at the beginning, it would have been tough to see the “better.”

My changes were, essentially, being less unhealthy and less of an asshole.

Even small acts of improvement are not easy.

They are challenging because, inside my head, I only “see” one side of life.

In the moment, my only experience is discomfort.

They are challenging because, I had created a life that supported my poor decisions.

Remember, what we don’t see.

Avoided Setbacks and Unforced Errors.

We never experience avoided health problems, relationships not falling apart, sidestepped addictions, bypassed financial ruin…

I’m grateful the 20-something version of myself was sick of being sick and decided to go for a walk.



The 30-Day Test

The first principle is you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.

— Richard Feynman

If you self-medicate with drugs or alcohol then you’re going to have a story wrapped around your usage.

My story is beer helps me fall asleep. It’s easy, and wonderful, to knock myself out with a couple of beers. Across 2017, I noticed a habit forming.

As two beers became four, I remembered Doc Evans’ video about alcohol and health. I also sensed that my reason for drinking was weak.

So I decided to make changes, for 30 days:

  • wake up 30 minutes earlier (5:30am is my new normal)
  • ditch the beer
  • pay attention

Similarly my earplug usage was up to 100+ hours per week and a sense of panic would arise when I found myself without plugs. I’d been using plugs for years and they helped, greatly, with not lashing out in the face of my kids’ whining.

How’d it work out?

I lost 8 pounds.

The earplug adjustment happened so quickly I forgot I needed them.

I haven’t forgotten about beer.

We often have habits that hold us back and forever seems daunting.

30-days was:

…long enough to expose my faulty thinking


…short enough to get me to start.

One final sleep tip, I lie beside my son for 15 minutes when he goes to bed.

No agenda.

Just breathe.

Our favorite part of the day

Applying Wealth Wisely

A reader recommended a book about Living with a Seal. The book is an entertaining read, but I did find myself swearing far more than usual afterwards (burpee test!).

The book is about a marathoner who spends a month training with David Goggins (former seal). Having done extreme training, I think it’s safe to assume the rest of the guy’s life was on hold during his month with Goggins!

Complete control of your schedule and the ability to focus on one thing for an extended period of time.

Whether you want to train with a seal, start a business, write a book or simply get really, really good at something… the ability to control your schedule is the starting point for your journey.

Can you take a month “off” to focus on “one thing”?

A month is a good unit because it’s about what it takes for me to start a new business, write a book or bump my level up in anything.

As an elite athlete, I’d spend 13-week blocks focusing on my sport. By that time, I was already good, and seeking to become the absolute best I could be.

You need time because a second use of wealth is accessing, then following, the ACTIONS of world-class teachers.

Advice without action is entertainment.

I’ve been guilty of throwing money and other people’s time at anything I found unpleasant. It can be a winning strategy but it was a band-aid for unnecessary complexity in my life choices.

If you’re a do’er then work towards control of your schedule so you can learn-by-doing alongside the best.

Parenting is similar to learning to swim — we’re not going to become world class on a couple hours per week!

Make sure your mentors have the sort of lives, and character, that you’d like to emulate.

Chose wisely!

Mental Health for Aging Athletes

Lucho shared this video of David Goggins.

So many memories come back when I listen to Mr. Goggins share his truth.

It takes courage to change.


Here’s something I learned from the greatest triathlete of my generation…

If your mental health relies on a physical expression of self then focus your drive on reducing your patterns of self-harm.

Everything else is details.


Some useful details…

What’s your objective?

Can you answer this question simply, and immediately?

What’s your objective?

Not because of the the importance of whatever you are working on.

Rather, because working towards an objective gives structure to your days and meaning to your life.


What’s your pattern of daily release?

Strength training and uphill cardio have better long-term outcomes than…

  • drugs and alcohol
  • violence and anger
  • outrage and gossip

…if your current alternatives aren’t working then consider…

Strength training and uphill cardio.

Whatever works for you… remove the things that prevent you from getting your daily release.

Pay attention to the habits that screw up tomorrow.


What is your pattern of breakdown?

You are going to see this in your peers, before yourself.

The closer you are to the sharp end, the brighter your flame will burn.

Whether it is 5, 15 or 25 years… each body and mind has a limit to the amount of elite-level output it can sustain.

Similar to how you conditioned yourself to endure, train the capacity to appreciate when you’ve had enough.

  • Enough pain
  • Enough challenge
  • Enough exercise
  • Enough work
  • Enough glory
  • Enough winning
  • Enough dessert

Encourage the humility required to admit you’ve had enough.


When life seems out of whack, return to the basics.

  1. Objective
  2. Release
  3. Patterns of Breakdown


  • Do good deeds in private.
  • Be your own hero.

Six Weeks

2017-05-14 20.51.55A useful heuristic from @mdotdoc

It takes six weeks to create an overuse injury

This rule of thumb works very well and has a number of implications – particularly if you are sick or injured on a six-week cycle!

Before undertaking a new initiative, I remember the good doctor’s advice and ask myself…

Do I think I can sustain this initiative for six weeks?

Here’s an example…

I want to do a lot of skiing next winter. I know that my limiters are quickness, anaerobic endurance, balance and “all-three-at-the-same-time”.

I spent an afternoon researching my options to address my limiters. In researching the plans, I realized that I lacked both the will, and the capacity, to do what was required.

Circling back to the six-week heuristic… I came up with a plan — 12 traditional strength workouts and 12 plyometric workouts. Each session is 15-30 minutes long.

The total commitment is 8 hours out of 42 days.

Seems tiny.

Three weeks in… I’m getting it done, just!

Long-term progress comes from keeping small promises to yourself via daily action.

The habit of one positive step, daily, is more important than the height of the step.