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Uncorrelated Interests as Newsletter
A brief primer into the what and why of Uncorrelated Interests.
Welcome to the first edition of the Uncorrelated Interests newsletter! In this introductory post, we aim to provide a clear understanding of why this newsletter even exists and what you can expect from your subscription.
Read Time: 6 minutes
Hello there reader! Many thanks for adding us to your reading list for the day. This is Eric Dickinger speaking, founder of Uncorrelated Interests and, for now, the sole author of this newsletter. I’m looking forward to earning a place in your subscription information diet over the coming weeks and months.
I truly enjoy business breakdowns, and I subscribe to likely too many newsletters and podcasts with this singular focus. Even still, I often find myself yearning for a better understanding, a more thorough exploration, of the broader systems undergirding these businesses - the infrastructure, the guardrails, and the incentives that govern the interaction of objects within these systems (people, relationships, businesses, etc).
I’m interested in the sociological morass, as it were, in which individual psychologies must interact to form decisions.
So this newsletter will not break down businesses per se, but it will (usually) anchor to capitalist endeavors. We’ll be flowing from ecosystems and institutions, to businesses and investors, to incentives and motivations.
I’m an entrepreneur by practice but a psychologist by training (or at the very least that’s what the framed parchment tucked away in my closet certifies). As such I’m fascinated most by behavior, by human systems. The sweet spot - decision-making of both the rational and irrational flavors, typically as it pertains to growing businesses of any kind or size.
The name of the newsletter is a bit tongue-in-cheek because, well, obviously these interests aren’t actually uncorrelated. I’m only writing about things that interest me, and if I’m interested in all of them, they must tautologically be correlated by the vector that is me.
Nonetheless, I like the idea because it helps set forth from the outset that this is very much not a single-topic newsletter. Nor will my writing closely track the news cycle. We are overflowing with (often quite good!) topical, quick-reaction writing.
I’m not interested in competing with these folks and, frankly, I’m just not interested in writing about “what’s hot”. I’m also quite slow and need substantial time to marinate in a given subject until I have something cogent and clear and worthwhile to write.
Simplicity vs Complexity
In some ways this is a newsletter about complexity. I don’t exactly mean this in the Mitchell Waldrop/Santa Fe Institute sense (though I also don’t not mean this - I’m sure I’ll get to an SFI post at some point); more in the “humans tend to oversimplify far more than is useful if one actually wants to understand a phenomenon” sense.
Systems and institutions, even “fun” ones like those in sports, music, film, and other areas I (we) enjoy every day, are inherently complex, and necessarily so. But this complexity also makes surface level, simple answers to “why” questions wholly unsatisfying, because if the answers were relatively simple, wouldn’t well-meaning people have already (largely) fixed them?
Systems, incentives, motivations and the like are challenging when combined, and one of the things I’m attempting to do with this newsletter is to further condition my brain, and yours, to avoid settling for the simple, convenient answers that don’t truly resolve the curiosity.
Ultimately I want the world to be better; it CAN and SHOULD be better1. But the world is also complicated, a web of complexities that pithy suggestions or pieces of advice can never hope to penetrate. Humans crave simplicity; we construct simple narratives because they help us understand, but more so narratives help us communicate our (alleged) understanding.
But the world doesn’t operate under simple conditions; complexity has no patience for a “simple narrative”. Robin Hogarth writes about “kind” versus “wicked” learning environments:
[In kind environments,] “rules are clear, patterns repeat, feedback is quick and accurate, and work next year probably looks like work last year.”
[In wicked environments,] “rules might change (if there are any), patterns don’t just repeat, feedback can be delayed or inaccurate, and work next year might not look like work last year.”
Most humans most of the time assume the world around them is a kind learning environment. Unfortunately, in my experience at least, the world is quite wicked outside of the most narrow use cases2, and wicked learning environments require multi-modal thinking, messy leaps of logic, and ultimately a humility that some/much/most of what one concludes is just wrong.
Writing is Thinking
There is no easy way to explore complexity, but I’m quite certain that reading and discussing are insufficient. Writing is the conduit.
I’m not sure who to credit for this, but it’s absolutely true - I think by externalizing thoughts via pen to paper. My process looks a bit like a random walk at first - I read/hear/watch something that triggers a dangly bit in my brain that I just can’t seem to grok or let go, and so I set out to learn about it. But how?
I’m sure ChatGPT and its LLM3 cousins will help here in the future, but for now it’s just a whole bunch of reading and note taking until I reach a “knowledge asymptote” - when I’ve reached ~90% of the info I need to build a compelling synthesis. Any further consumption here is mere vanity, providing only marginal returns at untenable opportunity costs. There are simply too many curiosities to allow one to monopolize attention.
And this newsletter is the manifestation of such a process. This will be a collection of analyses, essays, and (very occasionally) shorter musings, captured within three different sub-publications:
Adventures in Innovation: explorations of startups, investments, ecosystems, and investors within the (mostly) private markets of the Innovation Economy.
Armchair Insights: analysis and recommendations for improving the businesses of our everyday entertainment, including sports, film/tv, games, and more.
Prime Cuts: a handful of the best things to read, watch, and listen to each week, with brief commentary from us.
Finally, my influences. It may be helpful (or not) to reference the writers/publications that have most influenced my approach to the newsletter:
Byrne Hobart. The Diff was arguably the Substack that has provided the most value to my intellectual expansion the last couple years due to its incredible insight density. I’ve read so much of his work that it will take some time to shed some of his approaches to newsletter structure and writing style.
Ben Thompson. If you’re reading this newsletter you’re likely already a long-term Stratechery subscriber, but if not, you should be.
Jerry Neumann. Jerry is an independent VC and teacher at Columbia University. His blog, Reaction Wheel, is perhaps the most consistently excellent writing on VC strategy that I’ve seen.
Eugene Wei. He doesn’t write much, and hasn’t published for awhile (sad face), but whenever he does write he’s a must read!
Grantland. Though we’re now several years removed from this site having been shut down, it housed the best collection of writing talent focused on sports & pop culture, perhaps ever. Zach Lowe is probably the most famous alum (now), but this site was a testament to how great long-form writing about even popular topics can and should be done.
Matt Levine. A writer at Bloomberg, Matt is the most effortlessly and consistently humorous writer out there. The fact that he makes reading about financial/legal minutia legible let alone entertaining on the daily continues to shock me.
Podcasts. The Big Picture, Freakonomics Radio, Odd Lots, and Invest Like the Best are, for my money, the best podcasts out there, not least of which because of the level of detail and depth of topics they cover. A running theme here.
Like sports, an arena we’ll be investigating extensively both because I'm a life long participant and admirer, but also because they provide one of the only truly kind environments to explore within all of business.
LLM = Large Language Model, the class of AI tools that will allegedly bring forth the apocalypse but is, in reality, simply an overpowered autocomplete technology.