How do I become more intelligent and have better conversations?

Answer by Matthew Manning:

Here is how:

  1. Do all of the obvious things that people are going to suggest and that you could probably figure out yourself.  Chief among these is, of course, reading more.  Read all the time, even when you are waiting in line at the DMV, even when you are in the bathroom.
  2. Don't forget reference books. When I was a kid I would pore over encyclopedias.  These days you can do much better with Wikipedia.  Read the articles you like, look at the pictures, try to understand the tables.  Go on Wikipedia adventures, clicking from one thing to the next, and try to figure out how you started at Woodwinds and ended up at Beastie Boys.
  3. Try to unlock fine art.  Try really hard to read poems and figure out what they mean or what the author was talking about.  Pick out one picture in a museum and stare at it for an hour.  This will feel like an exercise in futility at first, but it will get easier over time and you will be amazed at how enlightening it can be.
  4. Spend more time in coffee shops (or any other social, creative space).  Listen to the conversations around you.  Even if you think people are morons for what they are talking about, just listen to them.  Try to determine if you agree or disagree and why.  If you feel compelled, butt into a conversation and see what happens.
  5. Watch more documentaries.  Documentaries zero in on a small slice of life and pull it apart for nearly two hours.  The specific illuminates the whole – this the key to increasing intellect.  Try to see the connections to how small microcosms represent larger working systems.  This is how you better acquaint yourself with metaphor.  Metaphor is the great tool of the human mind, and it's what separates us from the beasts.
  6. Spend less time trying to absorb the "noise" and pay attention to the specific "signals" that interest you.  There is a deluge of bullshit information that is thrown at your everyday, and I don't hesitate to say ignore most of it.  Pop culture deadens the senses and fills up important storage space in your finite brain.  If you must take it in, do so with a critical and suspicious eye.  For more on this watch Carpenter's "They Live."
  7. Find the others.  Find other smart people and make friends with them.  Don't look to argue with them.  Try to understand them, debate respectfully, and learn from them.  For more on this: a quote by Timothy Leary

Now the most important question:  can you do it?

How do I become more intelligent and have better conversations?

Are we wasting our life by trying to learn too much?

Answer by Stan Hayward:

Yes you are
What is more, you are wasting your time reading this post
and I am wasting time writing it

You are wasting time laying the table to eat. You could eat it just as well by using a bowl like your dog does

You are wasting time dressing up to go to work, and then changing your dress to go somewhere else

You are wasting time earning money to buy things you do not need
You are wasting time arguing with people who will take no notice of you
You are wasting time cataloguing your possesions when you will never use that catalogue
You are wasting time installing programs on your computer that you will rarely use
You are wasting time window shopping
You are wasting time watching TV that is not entertaining or informative
You are wasting time thinking about things you will never get around to doing

You wasted time learning a language you rarely speak, an instrument you rarely play, some party tricks you rarely practice, and cooking something you rarely eat
In general, your whole life is a waste of time

The reason you exist is because your parents concieved you when they had nothing better to do
And it is likely that you have, or will, do the same

You will waste much time looking after your children and buying them things they will break, ignore, or clutter up the place
You will waste much time running around clearing up after them

You will waste much time looking after your car which will stand empty for most of its life

And to top it all, you wasted time writing the question because even if someone give a perfect answer to the question, the answer has no beneficial application whatsoever

The good news is that
soon, just about everyone in the world will be unemployed because automation will replace us all
We will have nothing at all to do other than waste time all day

But instead of wasting it on the the above things that we currently do because we are socially pressured into doing them
we will waste time in creative ways

We will all live like the idle rich who do not lift a finger
We will live like artists who vaguely believe that their artistic insights will change the world
The world will be changed, but rather like you change you clothes, so it won't matter much

There, I've said it, and wasted exactly eleven and a half minutes of my life that has disappeared to wherever time goes when it is used up

I hope you are happy now

Are we wasting our life by trying to learn too much?

How I can be happy?

Answer by Dushka Zapata:

Here is what has worked for me.
  • Enjoying the present moment. Not dwelling on something that happened in the past; not obsessing about the future.
  • Make decisions that come from a place of love instead of from a place of fear.
  • Accepting what is. A lot of unhappiness comes from expectations and resisting what is happening.
  • Don't want what you don't already have. Envy (wanting for yourself what someone else has) and jealousy (the fear someone will take what is yours) make me unhappy very quickly.
  • Come across an obstacle and feel challenged instead of frustrated. This is all about attitude.
  • Think of others. Thinking only of yourself means you never get out of your own head.
  • Control nothing: I catch myself forcing, pushing, pulling, manipulating, plotting and set it aside.
  • Believe things happen in your best interest.
  • Feel grateful.
  • Feel that you have enough.  
  • When met with the unknown, feel a sense of adventure rather than uncertainty.
  • See beauty everywhere.
None of these are decisions you make but rather things you practice. Practice makes these things both easier and more frequent.

How I can be happy?

What is the craziest thing you have ever said to your boss, with or without getting fired?

Answer by Jay Bazzinotti:

I have been asked to tell the following story many times, and it became so famous that I was even asked to record it for NPR.

I worked for a high-tech company when high-tech was just starting to make an impact on the world. This was before the internet, even before everyone had PCs. We had one IBM PC for the entire department and it was a thrill to use it. I say this just to give an impression of how things have changed since then.

Our company made high speed modems, but the fastest anyone could do in those days was 9600bps, and you paid 10,000 dollars a piece for each modem — and you needed at least two of them, one for each end. We had invented a mechanism that would double that rate to 19,200bps, which was like lightning at the time. The benefits were immediately apparent and every major company wanted them, damn the cost. Unfortunately, the techniques we were using were in their infancy and had lots of bugs. Even though we were selling them like ice cream on a hot day, they didn't really work as advertised.

A huge oil company bought a massive amount of product. Their plan was to link all of their gas stations across the US to the their central site and have the managers report daily sales to the home office. This previously had been done by mail or phone and was slow and inefficient. With a modem system they could know what their revenues were to the penny overnight, or even several times during the day. They did some cursory testing on the devices and rolled them out. But they didn't work.

Our engineers worked day and night to fix the issues but it turned out to be intractable. There were grave concerns that we might never solve the problem. Our salesman for the company was a brave and confident expert with years of experience but he was becoming increasingly despondent. The customer was agitated and angry and threatening to return the product. This would have been a huge setback, possibly a death blow to the company. They were by far our biggest customer and by far the biggest sale we had ever achieved. And the salesman would not get his commission.

I was the manager of the business unit, newly promoted into the role at the age of 26. I thought I was something special, and to be honest if not modest, I was a world-wide expert on these technologies and frequently flown around the world to solve problems. But what I didn't know was that behind the scenes the senior managers of this customer were now DEMANDING a reckoning with our company. Our management knew it was the end if we did not have a solution, and we had no solution.

The salesman set up a meeting with the Senior Vice President of this oil company, a man who probably had the power to overthrow third world countries or have people killed. Suddenly, the President of our company had pressing business in Europe. So did every other executive down the line until, casting about, they looked at me. I was to be the sacrificial lamb they would send to the slaughter. I was told to go "make nice" with the customer to buy more time. I was unaware of the political issues behind the scene. If I failed, I would be unceremoniously fired as a token of good faith. The salesman knew it. I did not.

Thinking this was going to be yet another triumphant visit, and with a swelled head, I went out, bought a new suit and briefcase and flew from Boston to the West Coast. I didn't even have anything to put in the briefcase except a pad and pencil since I wasn't given any progress report, possible solutions or any token that might mollify them. Management was so certain of disaster that they thought it best I go completely in the dark.

I was picked up by our salesman in his new Jaguar , along with our field engineer, both of whom knew the gravity of our situation and how dire things were. I was cheerful and humming in the car as I took in the sights. I was surprised by their gloomy silence until we got to the customer's campus. I had never seen anything like it before. Oil money can buy anything, and this building was modern and massive, the lobby was an art museum with original paintings by the Masters.

We didn't even have to wait. As soon as we announced ourselves we were shown to a conference room. This is when I really got scared. The room was huge with an impossibly long conference table surrounded by the most expensive leather chairs money could buy. There were tuxedoed waiters with white gloves bringing crystal glasses for the pitchers of water. There was a stenographer with a real steno machine to take the minutes. The room was already filled with executives and lawyers speaking to each other in low voices and grim expressions. I knew then that I was doomed.

Finally the door opened and the SVP came in. A hush fell over the room. Here was a man that everyone in that room feared and respected. You could feel the power and electricity coming from him as he strode in. He sat directly opposite me. I blinked stupidly as the sweat rolled down my sides. Next to me our salesman was gripping his Mont Blanc pen like a drowning sailor clutches at a piece of driftwood. On my right the SE sat stoically. No matter what happened, he would be safe — unless the company went broke because of this debacle.

The SVP opened the meeting as if it were a legal proceeding, reading a summary of the problem and all the actions taken to date, emphasizing our failure to solve it. As he got into it he became angrier and angrier. He started pounding the table and he got red as he spoke of how much time and money had been wasted and spoke of "fraud" and "malfeasance" and "misrepresentation". All of this vitriol was directed at me. He was further insulted that our company had the nerve to send me, of all people, not even a VP. Finally he pointed at me and said in a harsh voice, "If you can't fix this problem today, right now, around town your name isn't going to be worth squat!"

And then he sat back in his chair. I can still hear the leather creaking. There wasn't another sound in the room. Every eye was on me now, and what I would say next. I had nothing.  I didn't even have anything in my briefcase to fumble with for time. 

And then, without even thinking, I said, "Around town it was well known that when they got home at night their fat and psychopathic wives would thrash them within inches of their lives"

I couldn't believe my own ears. I couldn't believe I had just said that. To my left, our salesman looked at me in horror and tried to pull himself away from me in his chair. The SE had his mouth open. So did all the important lawyers in their suits and suspenders. Even the stenographer looked up from her machine at me. I was well and truly fucked. The SVP wound up to scream at me and I flinched.

Then he stopped.

"Wait a minute," he said, "I know that line…"
"Yes," I whispered, "It's from Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' album."
He said, "I knew that. You like Pink Floyd?"
"Yes," I said, "It's my favorite group."
"Mine too," he said, suddenly smiling and getting up, "I saw the 'Wall' concert in LA in 1980. It was fantastic! I even caught one of Gilmour's guitar picks. I have it framed in my office with the ticket stubs. Come on, I'll show you!"

And he got up and walked over to the door. I numbly followed. My ears were ringing and I knew I stunk of sweat and fear. The people in the room were dumbstruck. Everyone had their mouths open or were looking at us in absolute amazement. No one said a word.

As we left the room, the SVP smiled and said to the room, "Oh, we'll give them a few more weeks," and he waved them off and we went down the hall. The rest of the visit passed in a blur.

The salesman was pounding the wheel and laughing out loud on the trip back to the airport. "We gotta get you a great big steak," he said, "You know, you can only get away with that once in your career." The SE didn't say a thing except, "I like Pink Floyd too."

When I got back to the office I was the hero of the hour. The salesman had called and related the story to everyone he could reach, and I was called into a meeting to recount the adventure. Everyone was laughing and slapping me on the back. It felt good to be the hero for once: tomorrow I would once again be the goat, I was sure. Over the next few weeks we had a dramatic breakthrough in Engineering and the problem was solved, the situation resolved, the customer saved. They went on to buy many thousands more modems. Pink Floyd saved the day.

What is the craziest thing you have ever said to your boss, with or without getting fired?

What are some worthy goals to pursue in life?

Answer by Dushka Zapata:

This reminds me of a joke I recently heard.
A drunk loses the keys to his house and is looking for them under a lamppost. A policeman comes over and asks what he’s doing.
“I’m looking for my keys” he says. “I lost them over there”.
The policeman looks puzzled. “Then why are you looking for them all the way over here?”
“Because the light here is so much better”.
We all look for things where the light is better, rather than where we’re more likely to find them.
Instead of setting specific goals, resolve to be receptive to the opportunities life presents to you.
Open your eyes. Say yes more often.
Don’t wear blinders on your only adventure.

What are some worthy goals to pursue in life?

“Keynote Speaker”

As the keynote speaker at an Olympic fund-raiser, a politician told his speechwriter to prepare something upbeat and motivational. Glancing quickly at the text the morning of the address, the politician bellowed, “What kind of nonsense is this? You want me to open my remarks with ‘Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh’?”

“Sir,” replied the aide, “I think you’re reading the Olympic symbol.”

-The Jokesmith