Commoncog is a publication about accelerating business expertise.
The way Commoncog approaches this topic is two fold: it is interested in a) a particular model of business expertise and b) methods to accelerate the acquisition of that expertise. Commoncog draws from the best expertise research, but is fundamentally interested in what works, which means the bar for truth in this site is often practice.
You may read an overview of these two topics below:
Commoncog's approach to business expertise is built on a extracted mental model of business expertise. Read on to learn what that means.
Articles related to running your business better. This broadly covers org design, better management, operational rigour, becoming data driven and related topics.
Articles related to strategy, understanding your customers, and beating the competition.
Articles related to capital structure, cash flow, unit economics and other financial nonsense.
Commoncog's approach to expertise acceleration is to look at the best research methods known to us today, and then to test these methods through in practice.
What follows are some of Commoncog's best ideas.
My main approach to careers is to identify a career moat, and then use that as a first position from which to build out the rest of one's career.
Career Moats 101 — A brief primer of nearly everything I've written on career moats.
A Personal History of the Career Moat — How I got so obsessed with careers.
Do a Job Market Audit — What to do when your moat is under threat.
All That is Rare and Valuable (members only) — What non skills-based career moats look like.
A Fourth Career Moat Pattern (members only) — Skills that don't normally appear in the same person.
Useful mental tools for your career.
Compensation: How Does Money Affect Retention? — An excerpt from my book on employee retention.
What's Your Time Preference? — Most careers last 40 years. The interesting bits tend to happen in the last two decades. Adjust expectations accordingly.
Using Head Fake Questions to Achieve Your Career Goals — How to ask questions to potential employers so that they can't lie to you.
Contra 'Passion is Overrated' — Maybe passion counts for something.
What Bill Gurley Saw — Some careers can be made on the back on a single, powerful idea.
Only The Paranoid Survive — A summary of a legendary book from Andy Grove, the former CEO and Chairman of Intel.
A recurring theme in the blog is how to get more effective at thinking. Often that goes beyond classical notions of rationality.
Beware What Sounds Insightful — Internet writers optimise for attention, not truth.
Reality Without Frameworks — Don't let frameworks blinker your thinking.
Seek Ideas at the Right Level of Abstraction — We think we're smart when we look at global trends. We often are not.
The Base Rate is a Hell of a Thing — Non-obvious implications of base rate thinking.
Munger's Two Track Analysis — Look at what's rational, and then look at how psychology might distort those incentives.
The Principles Sequence [Series] — A series on a book that changed my life.
Optimise For Usefulness — An early articulation of learning what is most useful from experiences.
Mental Models Are Mostly a Fad
You've probably heard of mental models. I investigated them over a period of five years, and didn't find them particularly useful. I've mostly concluded that they are a fad — a way of saying ‘framework’ without actually using the word ‘framework’.
A Framework for Putting Mental Models to Practice [Series] — originally published in the Farnam Street Learning Community, this series serves as constructive criticism of the whole mental models approach.
The Mental Model FAQ — A summary of everything I've ever written about mental models; read this if you don't have the time to go through the full series.
Dealing with Uncertainty
At the start of the 2020 pandemic I realised that forecasting the near future was too difficult, and began investigating the idea of fast adaptation under uncertainty. These are the results of that investigation.
There is No Normal — There is only what is happening now.
A comprehensive summary of The Good Judgment Project, and what it tells us about our ability to predict the future.
The Forecasting Series [Series] — Everything we know about the limits of human forecasting.
Reduce Noise, Not Cognitive Biases — An interesting result that falls out of the GJP is that cognitive bias reduction isn't as effective as noise reduction. Here's what that means, along with same caveats.
How To Reduce Decision Noise — A handful of methods to tamp down on decision noise.
It's very difficult to advance in your career if you do not get good at getting good.
The Tacit Knowledge Series [Series] — Tacit knowledge is knowledge that cannot be described by words alone. The dirty secret of deliberate practice is that you can't do it in a field with little pedagogical development — which means that you can't do it for things like management and company strategy and marketing ... basically, most of the skills that matter in our careers. So what do you do? You look for techniques to help you learn what's already in other people's heads. This is a series about that.
To Get Good, Go After the Metagame — The metagame — where the experts play — is probably where the frontier is; use that as a map of the skill domain.
Get Numb Before You Get Good —Don't bother getting good until you've gotten over the fear of starting.
Action Produces Information — Writing this blog post changed my life.
Practice as the Bar for Truth — The rigour of this entire blog may be captured in a single sentence: use practice as the bar for truth. Here are some implications.
How I Do Personal Experiments — Some notes from a few years of experimentation.
Paying Attention to Stories for Skill Extraction — Why it's a good idea to ask more experienced people for stories, as a way to get to their skills.
The Expertise of Evaluating Expertise (members only)
A Map of Expertise Research for the Career-Minded (members only)
On Perceptual Learning
I gave perceptual learning a shot, but ultimately concluded that deliberate practice was better for domains with good pedagogical development, and pursuing tacit knowledge (using naturalistic decision-making methods) was better for domains without. You may follow this investigation here:
- Chicken Sexing and Perceptual Learning as a Path to Expertise
- Putting Perceptual Learning to Practice
- An Update on Perceptual Exposure as Learning Technique
Expertise in Business (members only)
In the late 2000s, Naturalistic Decision Making researcher Lia DiBello started studying the expertise of business. She found something remarkable: every great business person shares a common mental model of business. The mental model captures a fundamental set of principles in the domain, is stable across industries and businesses, and seems resistant to change. This is a series of posts about her work.
Expertise in Business [series] — We start with the triad mental model of business, and then look at cognitive agility, both major contributors to the expertise of business.
Every Great Business Person Has the Same Mental Model of Business — A free preview that outlines the triad mental model of business expertise.
Lia DiBello on the Mental Model of Business Expertise — Podcast interview with Lia.
Better Business Thinking
An undercurrent that runs through my writing is my desire to get a deeper understanding of business. This was motivated by my experiences as a business operator, where I didn't understand some of the things I saw.
The Chinese Businessmen Paradox [Series] — I helped build a business from 0 to ~$4.5 million dollars in annual revenue from the end of 2014 to the end of 2017, and in the process dealt with a lot of traditional Chinese businessmen. They were savvy, ruthlessly competitive, and mostly uneducated. This is a series of posts that attempts to make sense of the businessmen I dealt with.
The Consulting Business Model — It turns out you can evaluate a consulting business based on the structure of the firm itself.
Good Synthesis is the Start of Good Sensemaking — This is ostensibly about adaptation in the face of uncertainty, but also contains an explanation of process power as a competitive advantage.
Product Development as Iterated Taste — What we can learn from Amazon's Working Backwards product development process, and what that means when compared to Eric Ries's Lean Startup, Apple's Creative Selection, and Pixar's Braintrust. Follow up: Product Validation Frameworks are Mostly Useless Without Taste
What the CEO Wants You To Know — A summary of Ram Charan's business principles book.
A Land & Expand Reading Program for B2B Sales (members only) — A post that works at two levels: gives you a reading program for B2B sales, and teaches you to construct a reading program + pick tree vs branch books, from scratch.
Competitive Arbitrage (members only) — The concept that underpins both career moats and business moats.
The central thesis is that for knowledge workers, emotional regulation is a superpower. You can't separate what needs to be done from how you feel about it. Ultimately, this means that you need to pay attention to your emotions in order to be effective.
Enthusiasm Half-Life — Over the long term, enthusiasm for most projects fade with time.
The best way to learn is through experience. The next best way to learn is through other people's experiences. Therefore: read books.
The Three Kinds of Non-Fiction Book — A useful categorisation scheme for non-fiction books, and how to read them.
The Land and Expand Strategy for Reading — How to read difficult topics when you don't have that much time.
Follow Your Nose — How to do what I do when writing this blog.
In Defence of Reading Goals — It's trendy now to dunk on reading goals. Here's why they aren't a bad idea.
Reading Quickly is Reading a Lot — The best way to read faster is to read everything you can get your hands on in a single topic.
The Ultimate Guide to Reading a Book a Week For Your Career — Everything I know on how to read well.
Is personal brand a universally useful thing?
The Gap Between Reputation and Personal Brand — What Estee Lauder's story tells us about the gap between reputation and personal brand.
Obviously Awesome — A summary of April Dunford's incredible book on positioning.
Career Networking and Power (members only)
Originally published , last updated .