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Creators' Corner #5 - actuarial conference, my 12 favourite problems and finding what's right

John Nicholas
John Nicholas
4 min read
Creators' Corner #5 - actuarial conference, my 12 favourite problems and finding what's right
Photo by Alexander Sinn / Unsplash

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Line-up this week:

  1. Actuarial Conference
  2. My 12 favourite problems
  3. Lesson of the week

1. Actuarial Conference

I am back in South Africa this week. The company I work for just hosted a conference all its actuaries from around the world. Imagine 300 nerds having a big party 🤓🎉.

Leading up to the conference, we were encouraged to submit papers. The 16 best entries got to present at the two-day event. I entered this idea on fostering healthier screen time habits, which fell short of making the final cut.  The papers were inspiring. Ranging from machine learning algorithms that identify health insurance members at risk of cancer to deep neural networks (advanced machine learning techniques) that improve insurance reserving.

Three observations:

  1. You truly are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. The individuals that consistently perform the best at the conference usually stick to the same teams and push each other to find even better ideas next year.
  2. Using the right incentives (prizes for hackathons and conferences) can generate significant upside for a business at a low cost, while boosting employee morale.
  3. There are people behind the numbers. There are real lives behind the 0s and 1s. The projects that did the best also demonstrated the biggest potential improvement on people's lives.

2. My 12 Favourite Problems (Mar-22)

Write of Passage, the online writing course I'm participating in, kicked off with a bang last week.

Our first assignment was to pen down our 12 Favourite Problems, one of the problem-solving strategies used by physicist and Nobel prize winner, Richard Feynman. The thinking behind this exercise is as follows:

Good writing is downstream of good information capture, which is downstream of being aware of the problems and ideas that resonate with you.

Here is my list of 12:

  1. What is my personal monopoly? What is my unique intersection of skills, interests and personality traits where I can be known as the best thinker on a topic?
  2. How can I bring what I do for work (actuarial science) into my writing? Example above.
  3. Which small bets (side projects and creative pursuits) can I take to diversify my income streams?
  4. What is my ideal vision of my career that gives me the flexibility to be the best partner, son and friend for the people I hold dearly in my life?
  5. What is the best workout routine that can fit in my busy schedule, while providing the level of flexibility, strength and endurance I desire for my body?
  6. How can I support my friends, colleagues and connections better and promote their work more?
  7. What am I doing to send the elevator back down? How can I help younger people navigate the world (careers, life, ambitions) better?
  8. What steps can I take to foster more stillness and mindfulness in my life?
  9. How can I find a state of flow more often? I often catch myself thinking while doing, how do I remove these distractions in work, sport and writing?
  10. How do I marry the concepts of building better habits (my will to improve) and determinism (free will is an illusion) to live a meaningful life? Can I calm my ego that loves the sense of being in control?
  11. What steps can I take to become a better storyteller? Speak and write in a way that captivates an audience and makes them laugh.
  12. How can I incorporate more elements of play in my life? Approach life and work less seriously, but still sincerely.

What are your favourite problems? Which problems on the list resonate with you?


3. Lesson of the week

Pat Grady, a partner at venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, shared 15 lessons from his 15 years at the company this week.

Before joining Sequoia, Pat had worked at a private equity firm. When evaluating a new investment, they would go through a list of 50+ potential red flags. If the investment failed any of the criteria on the list, it was dismissed.

Pat brought this attitude to Sequoia. He quickly became known as Mr. No, brushing off almost all the startup ideas that were pitched to him.

One day one of Pat's fellow partners at Sequoia, Roelof Botha, sat him down and gave him a valuable lesson. It's not about figuring out what's wrong. Anyone can do this. It's about figuring out what's right despite everything that could go wrong. This requires true skill.

The beautiful thing is, not only did this make Pat a better investor, it made him a better person. Instead of looking for the flaws in someone else, he started looking for what’s special in that person. He looked for what he could learn from them.

Have a great week! Look for what's special in other people. You might be pleasantly surprised.


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Actuary and creator.

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