Why We Hate Philosophy

“Philosophy”, verb.


Philosophy is important. Few argue with this claim, but perhaps even fewer acknowledge it and take action.

There is an aversion to the word “philosophy.” It’s pigeonholed as “the hard course in college” – the one you don’t want to take again. It’s reminiscent of both migraine inducing logic puzzles and vacant platitudes. The word is associated with smugness, jaded old professors, and the trade of charlatans. And to be fair, philosophy has earned it’s reputation. All these things are true.

When the book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released in the US, “philosopher” was changed to “sorcerer” in the title. There is some speculation about why the name was changed, but the market research is in: ‘Sorcerer” sounds exciting, ‘philosopher’ sounds boring, and nobody in America knows what a philosopher is.

Perhaps philosophy’s biggest strike is that you are seemingly asking questions that have no answers. Today we want definite, immediate answers. The idea that we’re living in an instant gratification economy is news to no one, though there have been some noteworthy musings on the subject lately – ReCode’s Instant Gratification Special Series and Paul Robert’s The Impulse Society to name a few.

Some eschew philosophy out of laziness, but even smart, thoughtful, hardworking individuals actively avoid it.

Why is this?

Philosophy inevitably challenges the what we think – and, our brains work hard to make us think we are doing the right thing, even in the face of sometimes overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The prospect of recalibrating our assumptions about our life is daunting.

There is a fear that in eating from the Tree of Knowledge we might end up forever changed. We could end up living in barrel like Diogenes, forced to reconcile unpleasant truths about our past like Pirsig, or flat out mad like Nietzsche. These are extreme and flawed examples, but there is nonetheless a creeping sense of danger that steers many away from serious self-investigation. Ignorance is bliss.

“Philosophy” is a very broad term.

There is a difference between theoretical/existential philosophy (ie. What does it mean to be human? or Is there a God and could he make a rock so big he couldn’t move it?) vs. practical life philosophy (ie. How should I deal with anger? or What does it mean to be successful in business“).

There is a place for the former, but everyone stands to benefit from the latter – regardless of worldview.

An intelligent person might say, “if philosophy can’t reveal absolute truths about existence, then how can it tell me how to live day to day. If philosophy can’t tell me if god exists, or if reality is an illusion, then how can I know whether I what I am doing is meaningful or appropriate? Wouldn’t those first, fundamental questions impact all others?”

The problem of universals is an old philosophical problem.

It remains a ‘problem’ because human cognition is limited. This is an absolute truth, meaning it is valid in all times and all places.

So then, with our limited cognition, how do we determine how to live?

This is what Seneca says on the matter:

“Someone may say: ‘What help can philosophy be to me if there is such a things as fate? What help can philosophy be if there is a deity controlling all? What help can it be if all is governed by chance? For it is impossible to change what is already determined or make preparations to meet what is undetermined; either in the first case, my planning is forestalled by a God who decrees how I am to act, or, in the second case, it is fortune that allows me no freedom to plan.’ Whichever of these alternatives, Lucilius, is true – even if all of them are true – we still need to practice philosophy. Whether we are caught up in the grasp of an inexorable law of fate, whether it is God of the universe who has ordered all things, or whether the affairs of men are tossed and buffeted haphazardly by chance, it is philosophy that has the duty of protecting us. She will encourage us to submit to God with cheerfulness and to fortune with defiance; she will show you how to follow God and bear what chance may send you.”

Even with a strong foundation in religion, questions or meditations about topics like the value of sleep, friendship, success in business, recreation, physical pain, reflecting on the past, etc. are often not flushed out in-depth. Spiritual leaders make instruction based on religion, but more often than not, there is room for interpretation.

These interpretations are the application of practical philosophy. It’s an exercise we can all benefit from and partake in no matter what our spirituality, language, societal norms, family upbringing, or education. Philosophy is not owned by the highbrow.

As with theoretical/existential philosophy, there are not necessarily firm answers to the questions in life philosophy. But, there is some advice that is timeless, transcending culture and religion. That’s the good stuff.

More importantly, philosophy should be viewed as an action, not a fixed set of beliefs. Studying smart dead people’s ideas – right or wrong – is an important step to building your own foundation for self-examination.

Philosophy helps us think rigorously about hard problems. Serious philosophy is valuable in itself and worth studying for its own sake, but more practically, it also prepares us for life.

Whether you want to ‘run the world’ (like Bill Clinton, Rudi Giuliani or Robert McNamara), have enough money to ‘buy the world’ (like Peter Thiel, George Soros or Carl Icahn), or just make people laugh (like Woody Allen, George Carlin, or Jimmy Kimmel), philosophy helps us know how to bear what chance many send us and meet fortune with defiance.

Growth Hacking A Best Seller

The end goal of every growth hacker is to build a self-perpetuating marketing machine that reaches millions by itself. – Aaron Ginn, Head of Growth, Stumbleupon

There’s been a lot of talk about “growth hacking” lately.

The term is en vogue but no matter what you call it – growth hacking, lean marketing, marketing 2.0, marketing 3.0 – it’s shorthand for the methods used by a new generation of multi-billion companies such as Facebook, Dropbox, and Airbnb to build their brands without spending a dime on “traditional marketing.”

Growth Hacking at its core means putting aside the notion that marketing is a self-contained act that begins toward the end of a company’s or a product’s development life cycle. It is, instead, a way of thinking and looking at your business. A “growth hacker” is someone who has thrown out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaced it with only what is testable, trackable, and scalable.


I recommend that people don’t get caught up on the term “growth hacker” or even a specific definition for it. Focus instead on the concepts behind it. – Sean Ellis, CEO, Qualaroo


Let’s keep it simple:

Growth hacking is marketing in today’s media landscape. It’s about maximizing ROI – about expending resources and energy where they will be most effective. At it’s core, marketing is lead generation. Anything that gets customers is marketing. It’s a shift from focusing on customer acquisition and creative profitability over ‘awareness’ and ‘publicity.’ Now more than ever, doing more with less is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Enter Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising by Ryan Holiday.

Ryan Holiday is a media strategist and prominent writer on strategy and business. He dropped out of college at nineteen to apprentice under Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power. He then went on to advise many bestselling authors and multiplatinum musicians. He served as director of marketing at American Apparel for many years, where his campaigns have been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube, and Google and written about in AdAge, the New York Times, and Fast Company.

Ryan has been on my radar for many years. Back in 2007 I was googling “Marcus Aurelius” and an interview Ryan did with UVA literature professor Gregory Hays was a first page result. There was very little in the way of commentary about Meditations out there at the time and here was this guy, my age, in marketing, blogging about stoicism. I thought that was really cool.

Since then, Ryan has had an impressive career. His first book Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator was a best seller. Ryan’s book The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph from earlier this year is an excellent introduction to practical Stoicism. The applicability of both these reads is not by any means limited to those interested in marketing or philosophy. I recommend you pick them up.

A couple of months back, Ryan put out a blog post announcing that he was looking for someone to help with the release of his upcoming paperbackGrowth Hacker Marketing. I pitched him an idea about how we might go about building a powerful pre-launch team of early adopters by offering a free advance copy of the book to college students actively enrolled in Fall 2014 courses covering advertising, PR, new media, entrepreneurship, and computer science.

With Ryan’s help, we massaged that idea into a successful lauch campaign.  The campaign was executed in 5 week-long stages: building and testing the site, organic promotion, targeted free promotion, and paid promotion.


Virality isn’t luck. It’s not magic. And it’s not random. These a science behind why people talk and share. A recipe. A formula, even. – Johan Berger, Contagious


Our objective: generate a wave of Amazon reviews, pre-orders and word-of-mouth PR from our pre-launch audience. Our goal: get 500 qualified sign ups with a potential cap of 1000.

Our strategy was a success and Growth Hacker Marketing launched with a wave of pre-orders and positive Amazon reviews.

So here’s how we executed from start to finish:

The techniques Ryan used to create and promote Growth Hacker Marketing – including our launch strategy – are detailed in-depth by The New York Observer: “Disrupting How Bestsellers Are Made: Apply Startup-style Growth Hacking To Publishing”. Be prepared to settle in. This article tips the scales at over 4750 words. If you’re looking for details and actionable advice, here you go. You can also read more about the project on Ryan’s website.

For a shorter recap of the project, here’s a SlideShare on how Ryan took Growth Hacker Marketing from a minimum viable product to a bestseller.

It was a pleasure working with Ryan.  It’s easy to see how his work ethic and ingenuity have made him so successful.

I also highly recommend you check out Ryan’s reading list newsletter. I typically pick up at least one book he recommends a month.


Growth hackers have a common attitude, internal investigation process, and mentality unique among technologists and marketers. The mindset of data, creativity, and curiosity allows a growth hacker to accomplish the feat of growing a user base into the millions. – Andrew Chen


“Disrupting How Bestsellers Are Made: Apply Startup-style Growth Hacking To Publishing by Ryan Holiday via The New York Observer

The Quintessential American Word

“This is the very intrinsic-most American,” D.H. Lawrence wrote of James Fenimore Cooper’s Deerslayer… Perhaps.


The question was put to me, “Is ‘California’ the quintessential American word.”

I like it. That’s a solid contender.

I’ll get to “California,” but first, let me first say this.

What we’ve got here is the richest, sweetest honeypot for barroom bickering there is. The wonderful thing is that one need not actually put any thought or consideration into what is (or is not) quintessentially American before blurting out the first thing that comes to mind and then furiously defending that hastily established position for the next three beers. That’s your right as an American.

Of course, there is exceptionally wide latitude for discussion on this topic.

Notwithstanding, there are a few generally agreed upon sub-category titleholders of quintessential American things that just aren’t up for reasonable debate – unless you’re just one of those folks who likes to argue for the sake of arguing:

The quintessential American actor: John Wayne
The quintessential American music: jazz
The quintessential American clothing: blue jeans
The quintessential American artist: Norman Rockwell

Polite society can agree on these. Fortunately, for the sake of conversation, most fields are not so easily resolved.

A good many have two lone, clear cut contenders perpetually battling it out for the #1 number one spot.

Barbeque and apple pie duke it out for food. The Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls battle for destination. The bald eagle and the buffalo for animal. The Fourth of July tries to stay competitive with Thanksgiving (which now officially includes Black Friday) for holiday. The battle for soda has never been close so Coca-Cola is forced to square off against Budweiser for beverage. For these categories, anyone can arrive at their position by coin flip and never technically be wrong or face significant bodily harm.

There are, however, some categories that are so contentious that to stake your flag in the ground one way or another is to declare war.

Think people. I cast my vote for Ben Franklin but a legitimate argument can be made for both Washington and Jefferson – and that’s just narrowing the field to founding fathers. A strong case can be made for Mark Twain (and of course, he securely holds the title of quintessential American author) as well as Woody Guthrie, MLK, and a good many others.

Athlete is also a tough one. Jim Thorpe, Muhammad Ali, Jordan, Tiger. Blood has been spilt over less.

There are also some quintessentially American things that don’t necessarily fall into one category or another but naturally need mentioning in a discussion such as this: John Deere, the rodeo, The Boy Scouts, Disneyland, Harley-Davidson, the Statue of Liberty, the NFL, the B-52 Bomber, Elvis Presley, Kentucky Bourbon.

It’s tough to dissect the American brand, but for a moment, let’s go down that road. There’s an undeniable element of intangibility that does bring some virtue to a first-thought-best-thought approach. The evanescence of “Americanness” will forever keep the question alive, but there are few things we do know for sure.

What we are looking for is the pure and essential essence of America. Something simple yet extraordinary. This American thing must be firmly rooted in the past with a connection to the future. There is 50/50 blend of tradition and progress. “Freedom” and “independence” are compulsory nouns to throw in the mix. It’s got to be ever present a with just a bit of self-awareness. Also, some bravado.

But the most quintessential American *word.* That’s the granddaddy of them all. “Word” encompassess all the other categories and then some. That word has a lot to carry on it’s shoulders. It must inspire. The phonology must be striking. (I doubt only one syllable will ever suffice.) The word must have what it takes to outlive even the nation itself. I’m looking for a word that transcends geography and time. It’s got to move people.

So in response I say, “California” is certainly not not the quintessential American word. It’s a worthy nomination, but I’m not sure I am ready to sign off on ‘California’ just yet. It’s sunny and all out here but the traffic is terrible, it kind of smells like urine, and it could fall into the ocean any day now.

As I think on it, allow me to throw just one more word in the ring for argument’s sake: