The Almanack of Naval Ravikant

January 13, 2021

This book is a summation of ideas of Naval Ravikant, collected from years of interviews and tweets, and put into a book. Credit to Eric Jorgenson, author of the book, for the unique idea of collecting these scattered pearls of wisdom and making it into an enjoyable and readable experience.

I absolutely love this book. I have been raving about it to anyone that will listen and recommend just buying it, instead of using my summary as a reference. I think it's about £1.50. The Almanack is full of concise, bite-sized chucks of wisdom which propagates thinking in multiple applications. I have taken a ton of highlights and used them in my thinking time for a few weeks now.

Favourite Highlights:

On being yourself, with specific knowledge and value:

  • Specific knowledge is knowledge you cannot be trained for. If society can train you, it can train someone else and replace you.
  • Become the best in the world at what you do. Keep redefining what you do until this is true.
  • The greatest superpower is the ability to change yourself.
  • Whenever you can in life, optimise for independence rather than pay. If you have independence and you’re accountable on your output, as opposed to your input—that’s the dream.

On business direction, relationships, and success

  • The direction you’re heading in matters more than how fast you move,
  • If you can’t see yourself working with someone for life, don’t work with them for a day.
  • Another example of a foundational value: I don’t believe in any short-term thinking or dealing. If I’m doing business with somebody and they think in a short-term manner with somebody else, then I don’t want to do business with them anymore.
  • When working, surround yourself with people more successful than you. When playing, surround yourself with people happier than you.

On Reality

  • A contrarian isn’t one who always objects—that’s a conformist of a different sort. A contrarian reasons independently from the ground up and resists pressure to conform. Cynicism is easy. Mimicry is easy. Optimistic contrarians are the rarest breed.
  • When everyone is sick, we no longer consider it a disease.
  • What we wish to be true clouds our perception of what is true. Suffering is the moment when we can no longer deny reality.
  • The number one thing clouding us from being able to see reality is we have preconceived notions of the way it should be.

On Happiness

  • Don’t take yourself so seriously. You’re just a monkey with a plan.
  • Run Uphill Simple heuristic: If you’re evenly split on a difficult decision, take the path more painful in the short term.
  • Maybe happiness is not something you inherit or even choose, but a highly personal skill that can be learned, like fitness or nutrition.
  • There are no external forces affecting your emotions—as much as it may feel that way.

On Being Present

  • If you look at little children, on balance, they’re generally pretty happy because they are really immersed in the environment and the moment, without any thought of how it should be given their personal preferences and desires. I think the neutral state is actually a perfection state. One can be very happy as long as one isn’t too caught up in their own head.
  • We crave experiences that will make us be present, but the cravings themselves take us from the present moment.
  • Be present above all else. Desire is suffering. (Buddha).
  • Confucius says you have two lives, and the second one begins when you realize you only have one.

My summary:

Out of context, as presented here, some of Naval's ideas on identity come close to contradiction. He teaches that the greatest superpower is the ability to change, but advocates the more you know, the less you diversify. He claims you should set an aspirational rate on your time but also that thinking you are important is setting yourself up for unhappiness (paraphrasing).

When I think about the likely context behind these statements, however, I think his points can co-exist. I assume he is trying to find a balance of valuing yourself enough not to be a puppet, but not enough to think you're better than everyone else. For the working world this means to value your time and unique knowledge so that you have freedom to create something great, but in your own mind, have perspective that none of this matters and you don't need to sweat the small stuff.

I really like seeing quotes or arguments from different perspectives. Naval is clearly not trying push a one-size-fits-all style approach, in fact he is not pushing anything at all. It is just a collection of smart things said by him and bundled together by someone else. You will have to provide your own context.

Naval's business advice is also very, very good and it mirrors a lot of advice from my favourite business book, The Road Less Stupid. It is the idea that a lot of people get busy running in the wrong direction, and success is attained by setting the right course and making fewer mistakes. He also believes in only maintaining horizontal or 'peer' relationships and acting quickly, but being patient with outcomes.

Naval also offers great quotes on reality, happiness and being present-focused. His central theme around these topics being that expectation is the root of unhappiness and that everything is as it is meant to be. In this theme, desire is a contract to be unhappy until you get what you want. Our natural state is to be free of these constructs, but learned behaviour introduces thoughts of what 'should be' instead of 'what is'. Therefore, his advice is to see the world as it is, give up the idea of how it should be, and spend time in your body and awareness. He advocates meditation.

Overall, this is a book I'm sure I will read over and over again. The very fact that someone has taken scattered advice of living person and turned them into a (very successful) book, should be testimony that theres some good things inside of it.