Italian Cashmere, Journalistic Skepticism, and Challenging Experiences

To Be And To Last #44

This week we explore the business philosophy behind a billionaire “cashmere king”, the value of not getting what we want, and the most human struggle of understanding cause and effect.

🧥 The “king of cashmere’s” philosophy of work

“In 1220, Genghis Khan was boasting that in two days, he could do what the Roman army would do in 10 days. He was boasting about his speed. Man’s feeling has not changed, but the pace has changed.

Those who come to me and say, “You know, I work 15 hours a day,” I say, “I am not interested.” I am interested in the quality of working hours, not the quantity. The brain of the human being. Do you think that during the first five hours of the day you are the same as you are in the last five hours? No way. You’re tired, and if you’re tired, you stop listening, and the decisions you make are risky.”

— Brunello Cucinelli, in conversation with Om Malik

From philosophy to meaningful work, this far-ranging conversation might be exactly what the doctor ordered. Evoking traces of Basecamp’s DHH and Jason Fried, Brunello Cucinelli shares the insights he’s learned in building a billion dollar cashmere fortune.

My biggest takeaway? Manage energy, not time. And treat everyone with respect.

🧳 When you didn’t get what you wanted…

Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.”

— Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture (h/t Chris Jones)

🌧️ Do wet streets cause rain?

“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

Michael Crichton

As humans, we have an intense drive to build a mental model of the world around us. Trouble is, we care SO MUCH about building this mental model that we’re often willing to accept the first theory that offers a feeling of certainty, rather than face the discomfort of remaining skeptical and uncertain.

Is this an innate human trait? Or is it a learned helplessness trained by schools and workplaces that penalize uncertainty?

In any case, I’ve found the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect to be a good personal reminder: just as news/social media is often wrong about things I do understand, I should expect equal amounts of inaccuracy in things I don’t understand. Stay skeptical; stay curious.


To Be And To Last: Thinker Nate Desmond’s weekly roundup of long reads, contrarian thoughts, and hidden jewels that aren’t getting enough attention.

You likely joined on NateDesmond.com or BuckFiftyMBA.com.

Got thoughts? nate+newsletter@natedesmond.com.