<-- home

Conventional Wisdom

Conventional Wisdom can be a bunch of BS. It can be a bludgeon to keep the troops in line. When it goes unexamined it can create group think that prevents healthy discourse.

And example of conventional wisdom is “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. Which produced such gems as “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. I’ve heard this book name checked in everyday conversation to TV shows. It can feel sacred. It was refreshing when I read this:

Sun Tzu’s own contemporaries and later Chinese thinkers did not shy away from spirited debates over the enduring wisdom found in his work. 1


Xunzi suggests that adherence to the military counsel of Sun Tzu is so detrimental to one’s own self-interest, that it would be equivalent to “using one’s finger to stir a boiling pot.” 1

It’s not sacred and its up for debate. It was up for debate in his own time. I might sound stupid for revealing that I too once thought books like Sun Tzu were a source of unimpeachable advice, but I suppose we all have to start somehwere.

Conventional wisdom comes in all forms though. I for a long time was a fervent reader of HN (hacker-news)2. If you drink from that firehose there is a picture that emerges of what one must be like to create a Start Up. I’m happy to say that I started to disabuse my self of these myths long ago, but there have been a few great examples of the anti-startup founder in the last few years that demonstrate how wrong the stereotype is. For example Alex Blumberg’s start up Gimlet.

In the podcast Start Up Blumberg documents the journey of his company from idea to exit. And, it paints a picture that is unlinke any founder I’ve ever read about. There was no machismo, no ceremony. Only bald hope and optmism, thats so raw it can make you feel uncomfortable. But, it’s hard to argue that it didn’t help, and in fact might be at the root of his success.

I might be saying things that even a moderatley smart person may already know, but Conventional Wisom shouldn’t always be accepted at face value. I’ve learned to take what I learn and try and apply it somehow.

  1. https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2019/9/24/notes-from-a-sun-tzu-skeptic ↩︎

  2. https://news.ycombinator.com/news ↩︎