Behavior Is Determined By Incentives – 7 Takeaways No. 163

Two takeaways about motivation and incentives, plus free speech, entrepreneurship, deepfakes, gratitude, and realizing some relationships may just be getting in your way.

A donkey in a pasture. The donkey is being led by a carrot dangled in front of it. The pasture is lush and green, under a clear blue sky. The donkey is focused on the carrot, which is tied to a stick held by an unseen person. The scene captures the humor and determination of the donkey, with the carrot just out of reach.
(Image: DALL-E 3)

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1. “Behavior is determined by incentives.”

Incentives Are Everything – David Pinsof – (

Ultimately, this is a complete reframing of human behavior. OK, maybe not complete, but still — viewing what’s happening around us in the light of the incentives involved at each step of the way is a very interesting, and different perspective.

the more we all become aware of our incentive structures, the more incentivized we will be to choose them wisely.

What I find very interesting is that this applies to things like political discourse and social interaction, of course, but to other things as well. Not mentioned in the article, but what came immediately to mind, are the incentives we have to interact with various sources of social media, and how manipulating those incentives indirectly manipulates us.

Do this: Choose your incentives wisely.

#incentives #manipulation

2. “Not all views can be publicly expressed.”

Young liberals used to be the most supportive of free speech. Now they’re the least. – Jean M. Twenge – (Generation Tech newsletter)

This is a deep dive, with analytics, discussing how the concept of free speech itself has differing definitions by age group. Another way to say it is that different ages have different tolerances for what it “allowed”. Surprisingly, it’s the younger generations who are now most restrictive. Naturally, there’s speculation why.

Now onto Gen Z. First, this generation spends — and spent — much less time with each other in person as adolescents. They are not as accustomed to the back and forth of a real-time argument between friends. Instead, they spend more time online. Online debates are anonymous and often harsh – after all, you don’t have to see someone’s face.

Does the ability to block online lead to an increased tolerance for “blocking” or “cancelling” in the real world?

The essay covers more. I found it thought provoking, as the data is other than I expected.

Do this: Think about where you draw the line.


3. “Entrepreneurship is predominantly communication”

“Getting rich isn’t fun” – Alex Hormozi – (YouTube)

This is a fairly scattered (others might say “wide ranging”) video where Hormozi discusses many topics relating to entrepreneurship. It’s interesting, but a couple of things jumped out at me. The first is the takeaway above. I would generalize to either “all meaningful endeavors are predominantly communication”, or just “life is predominantly communication”. It’s something I’ve discussed often over at Ask Leo!.

This one also kinda hit hard:

The older you get the fewer friends you tend to have and that’s not because you’re less social but it’s because you have [higher] standards.

That feels harsh. And yet, on reflection, I think we all grow to tolerate less BS and drama and whatnot in our lives.  When asked what would make a “unicorn” of a best friend:

  1. truly root for you
  2. they make you better
    1. they are competent in ways that you are not
    2. aligned interests
  3. aligned values

It’s just very hard to do all three.

Do this: invest in your unicorns.

#entrepreneurship #communication #friendship

4. “This is 100% a thing that was ‘predicted’ (obvious) *years* in advance”

The Taylor Swift deepfakes are a warning – Casey Newton – (Platformer newsletter)

The essay focuses primarily on the lack of platform moderation for what is apparently some very vile AI-generated stuff being posted.

And we should not make the mistake of thinking that it is only celebrities like Swift who will suffer. On 4chan, groups of trolls are watching livestreams of municipal courtrooms and then creating non-consensual nude imagery of women who take the witness stand. … Deepfake creators are taking requests on Discord and selling them through their websites.

If it sounds horrific, it’s because it is, of course. And to be clear, this isn’t about the technology. It was inevitable, and that horse has left the barn. It’s about more organizations and governments taking the risks seriously – or not.

The one topic only briefly mentioned in the essay is the one that worries me the most: this (and future) election years. There are few things that worry me as much as the targeted mis-use of this otherwise amazing tech.

I will say that I’ve already gotten to the point of not trusting many images that have even a hint of AI nature to them, or those that simply seem too contrived or sensational to be real.

Do this: This is going to be a very important issue. Educate yourself, and remain highly skeptical.

#AI #deepfakes #skepticism

5. “Gratitude can keep us trapped.”

F*ck gratitude! – Annie Scott – (Midlife Mess with Annie Scott)

Before you jump to conclusions: “I get that pro-actively challenging yourself to be grateful rather than a miserable bastard is A Good Thing.”

This is about the “should” culture, especially in the self-help industry.

I believe gratitude is a tool that’s sometimes been used to keep me small. To limit me. To stop me from wanting more or better. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Nothing’s black and white. Even gratitude can be helpful or harmful, depending on how you do it. If the world “should” is involved, you might want to think about how it’s serving you.

Do this: Be grateful, of course, but don’t let it limit you.

#gratitude #should

6. “Bad behavior is intensely habit-forming when it is rewarded”

The Psychology of Human Misjudgment – Charles T. Munger – (Farnam Street blog)

This serendipitously amplifies this week’s first takeaway. From a transcript of a rather lengthy speech, Munger outlines 25 psychological tendencies affecting human behavior. The first, and perhaps the most important, is the “Reward and Punishment Superresponse Tendency”. In short, we are easily manipulated when given a reward of some sort for the desired behavior.

Although money is the main driver among rewards, it is not the only reward that works. People also change their behavior and cognition for sex, friendship, companionship, advancement in status, and other nonmonetary items.

“Rewards” are also often termed “incentives”. Quoting Poor Richard’s Almanack: “If you would persuade, appeal to interest and not to reason.”

Do this: Pay more attention to the incentives driving your behavior, so you can decide whether they result in behavior you actually want.

#incentives #manipulation

7. “You are not for everyone, and everyone is not for you.”

This Year, Let Go Of The People Who Aren’t Ready To Love You – Brianna Wiest – (Thought Catalog)

I think this is one of the hardest lessons of life. We’re all trying to find more friends and attachments — it’s a very common topic right now — and yet not everyone can fill those roles. Sometimes the right thing for everyone is to quit investing in a relationship where you’re the only one putting in effort.

You are not responsible for saving people.
You are not responsible for convincing them they want to be saved.

This is so spectacularly true for our biological family. We are often taught, directly or indirectly, that we have a responsibility to remain deeply connected. That’s just not the case. As I mentioned to a friend just today, the family we choose can sometimes be significantly more valuable, appreciative, and loving than the family we’re born into.

Not everyone resonates with everyone else. That’s OK! Even when it’s within biological family.

Do this: Cherish and invest (more) in those you resonate with.

#relationships #family #friends

Random links and thoughts

What I’m Reading

In progress:


A full list of my common sources is on the sources page.

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