One of the reasons I wrote a long, meticulously researched post last week about The Mental Model Fallacy was that I was coming to grips with the realities of writing from practice.
One of the central premises of this blog is that I should write things from a practitioner’s point of view — a constraint that necessarily restricts me from writing about things I can't possibly test in practice. I wrote The Mental Model Fallacy to call out what I saw as self-help bloggers writing about practitioners without being practitioners themselves; I explained how the mental models that matter most for success are the ones that can’t be easily understood without practice. Consequently, I realise that it doesn’t take much to turn into a self-help hack: you merely need to spend a few months writing all the low-hanging fruit away; what remains are mental models of expertise and insight that may be hinted at, but that which you may never hope to reach without experience.
The near-term impact is that I’ve not allowed myself to write untestable bromides on macroeconomics, politics, or philosophy — or at least, if I do write about such topics, they should make up no more than 20% of my total blog output.
(And, mark my words, my natural bias is towards curiosity about such topics; I took enough philosophy classes in university to horrify my Very Asian Mum).
The vast majority of posts here have stemmed from my experiences during the past three years of hectic, heads-down business execution. My favourite series of posts on this blog so far has been The Chinese Businessman Paradox; I enjoyed writing those pieces because I could explore a number of half-baked hypotheses I was forming from watching, competing against, and doing business with Chinese businessmen in Singapore.
But the well from which I’ve drawn those ideas is beginning to run dry. After all, three years of thoughtful practice isn’t a long enough time to develop insights for a high-output blog. And so I must be honest here: my writing speed far outstrips the rate at which I learn things from practice. At some point in the near future I will find myself writing trite self-help, like all the others in this genre.
To prevent this, I’m going to be reducing my output to a post a week. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule; I may still post more than once a week depending on what I’m chewing on … but the bare minimum I’m committing to is a single, well-written essay once a week, every week. The bad news is that you’ll have less to read on this blog on a weekly basis. The good news is that this will give me enough time to learn new things, in order to share them later.
The Commonplace Newsletter will subsequently reflect my adjusted output; it’ll now contain the one Commonplace post (or more, depending on what I publish), along with the handful of external links I’ve found relevant and useful to our topic for the week.
Being Specific About Career Moats
This announcement post also marks a shift in how I’ll cover the pursuit of building career moats. In the coming weeks, I’ll write a series of posts summarising the Commonplace approach to developing general career moats … and then I’ll switch to cover my specific approach to building career moats in my life.
If you’ve been following Commonplace for the past few months, you might know that the general approach I’ve taken is relatively simple: read books, watch out for strategic inflection points, maintain basic financial hygiene, build rare and valuable skills, and when looking for advice, optimise for usefulness. Of that list, building rare and valuable skills is the most important element; it is the foundation from which career moats are developed. All else is icing.
After I’ve summarised this general approach, however, I’ll turn the attention to catalog my journey to build career moats in my life. I'll share lessons that I've learnt, ideas that I've found useful, and techniques that I think are helpful in pursuit of this goal. This will necessarily be less useful to some of you; I’ve chosen to do this by starting a business — something that not everyone is interested in doing.
While I’ll continue to bend my writing towards usefulness, I understand if some of you might feel disinterested in my chosen path.
I think this is a good tradeoff. As I’ve argued in The Mental Model Fallacy, tacit mental models are what causes success; such models are specific to each field and are what are worth pursuing when building rare & valuable skills. Therefore, career moats will look very different for different fields: if you are a doctor, a career moat will be tied to your practice and to the employment structures of the healthcare industry in your specific country; you won’t find that much of what I have to say to be useful to you.
But if you are interested, or if you work in an adjacent industry with similar tacit mental models as mine; or if you are directly affected by the nature of selling software and running software-oriented businesses, then you might find what I have to say to be very useful — far more useful than if I were to just stick to general career frameworks.
This is the bet that I’m making here, and I’m starting this shift next week.