🔥 Seeking Clarity No.5

Narrative Arbitrage, Unsolicited Advice, and Playing The Long Game 5.21.21

Hello friends! Welcome to Seeking Clarity. My name is Sean Cheng and I’m a student at Swarthmore College. Each month, I bring you a thoroughly researched essay on an interesting topic along with insightful reads from around the Internet. Let’s seek clarity together.

All my past essays can be found here.

Follow me on Twitter @seancheng_ where I curate more lessons on mental models and startups from leading entrepreneurs, VCs, and writers.



✅ What’s Inside:

  1. Monthly Essay - Narrative Arbitrage: Insights on Leveraging Unique Data and Contrarian Viewpoints

  2. What I’ve Been Reading - 99 Additional Bits of Unsolicited Advice

  3. Twitter Find of The Month - Insights into playing the long game


📝 Narrative Arbitrage

Many of the narratives we tell ourselves are only partially true.

I've noticed this phenomenon among acquaintances, friends, and in my own life. We arbitrarily set limitations on what we can do, while heightening the perceived risk of certain pursuits.

This mentality manifests itself in statements formulated like "Because of X, I can't do Y," "I don't have enough experience for Z," "H is too uncertain and will cause me to lose J."

The power of these types of statements is they often contain partial truths.

It's likely you don't have enough experience to work as a software engineer at the company you want. You don't know enough about marketing and sales to become a startup founder. You don't have enough good ideas to become a writer.

These barriers can be real and worth considering, but they are also oftentimes overstated.

People wildly overestimate the difficulty of what they don't understand. As a result, the impossible is frequently conflated with the somewhat difficult.

Take web development for example. A lot of startup founders write themselves off as "non-technical" and never make an effort to learn to code. They tell themselves it's too difficult and their strength lies in being the charismatic "idea person."

But learning to code a basic web app isn't challenging for most people. The perceived difficulty of coding is way higher than it is. And it's probably easier than trying to find a suitable technical co-founder when you have no technical skills to evaluate whether or not they're any good.

You can use these types of false preconceptions and other people's self-limiting beliefs to your advantage. While everyone else is worrying about something being too hard or not practical, you'll be pulling ahead because you recognize the challenge isn't as great as it seems.

I call this narrative arbitrage.

Read the rest


📚 What I’ve Been Reading

  • 99 Additional Bits of Unsolicited Advice - Some highlights from this article:

    • Most overnight successes — in fact any significant successes — take at least 5 years. Budget your life accordingly.

    • Even a foolish person can still be right about most things. Most conventional wisdom is true.

    • When someone tells you something is wrong, they’re usually right. When someone tells you how to fix it, they’re usually wrong.


🐦 Twitter Find of The Month


🙏 Thank You

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Wishing you the best,

Sean