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Shane Parrish: A Former Spy On How To Think Smarter

By April 20, 2020January 23rd, 2024No Comments
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Episode #513



Every single day you make about 35,000 decisions.

You decide to get up or hit snooze. You decide to challenge yourself or take the back seat. You decide to learn from mistakes, or not.

Our lives truly are the sum of our decisions compounded. What we do and what we decide quite literally defines who we are.

In this destabilizing moment of fear and uncertainty — when lives quite literally hang in the balance — the nature and quality of our decision making is paramount.

It is thus incumbent upon us all, now more than ever, to optimize our decision making skills.

So how precisely do we do this?

It’s a question that became an obsession for Shane Parrish, a former computer scientist and spy who began to ply his curiosity and copious analytical aptitude to create a canonical roadmap to drive better judgment, better decisions, and ultimately better life outcomes for himself and others.

According to Shane, the key is expanding our mental models, the frameworks we craft and rely upon to simplify complexity and understand the world. Prioritizing objective reasoning, mental models help to better frame the decision-making process, putting us in a better position to create relevancy and succeed in life.

Where am I going? Is what I'm doing today going to get me where I want to go? If not, what do I need to do in order to get where I want to go?

Shane Parrish

One of the biggest influencers across Wall Street, Silicon Valley and professional sports, Shane is a former cybersecurity expert for Canada’s version of the NSA and the founder of Farnam Street — a curated collection of research and musings to sharpen your mind, help you make smarter decisions, and ultimately live better.

Featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and The Economist, Shane also hosts The Knowledge Project podcast (always high in my personal rotation), pens the Brain Food weekly newsletter and is the author of The Great Mental Models Vol. 1: General Thinking Concepts and The Great Mental Models, Volume 2: Physics, Chemistry and Biology — the first two releases in a series of books designed to improve your decision making, productivity, and how clearly you see the world.

We begin today’s exchange with Shane’s prior career at Canada’s top intelligence agency. His take on cybersecurity in a  post 9-11 world. And the lessons he learned from his time as a spy.

It’s a conversation about the importance of reading and deep learning— training yourself to remember everything you read and how to apply it to your life.

And it’s about developing your mind and thought processes to create a competitive advantage.

But more than anything, this is a conversation about distilling wisdom into teachable formulae for living a better, more fulfilling, more wholesome life.

Because how we decide is how we live.

Stop chasing better outcomes and start focusing on a better process.


The visually inclined can watch it all go down on YouTube. And as always, the audio version streams wild and free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Note: this conversation was recorded on February 11, 2020 — weeks prior to the alternate reality we find ourselves in today. Therefore, there is no talk about the pandemic. Nonetheless, Shane’s wisdom and experience is both timeless and timely. I suspect you will find this exchange instructive and helpful in navigating the perils of our current situation.

If you are interested in Shane’s pandemic related thoughts, he recently penned an excellent piece on Farnam Street entitled What You Truly Value.

I’m grateful for this exchange and am better for it. My hope is that you find Shane as dynamic and helpful as I did.

Peace + Plants,

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Thanks to Jason Camiolo for production, audio engineering and show notes; Margo Lubin and Blake Curtis for video, editing and graphics; portraits by Ali Rogers; and theme music by Ana Leimma.

*Disclosure: Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.