book summary: Machina by Sebastian Marshal

On setting goals

Be very disciplined and define the following 3 items separately.

  1. Framework
    1. meaning of life – why you are doing something
    2. quality of life – how you are doing something
    3. means – what resources do you have available to do something. Beware of miss accessing one’s means and capabilities
  2. Beware of blindspots:
    1. it is not what you don’t know that kills you. It is what you know to be true that is not so.
    2. General heuristics on Humanity: Always treat humanity as an end and never as a mere means. This would invite retaliation
  3. Observe energy / morale level

Access of quality

  • You need to be able to perceive if things are above the bar or below the bar
  • You need to make sure your people can as well

On Strength and Weakness – The Federalist papers, Allen and Cloonan

  1. A weak government when not at war is very agitated by internal dissension
  2. Internal agitations never fails to bring on fresh calamities from abroad.
  3. Their very weakness invites attack

On the Balance of power (Power and Legitimacy) – Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger

  • Equilibrium works best when buttressed by agreement on common values
  • Balance of power inhibits the capacity to overthrow the international order
  • Agreement on shared values inhibits the desire to overthrow the international order
  • Power without legitimacy tempts test of strength
  • Legitimacy without power tempts empty posturing
  • Usually established by periodic conflict

On use of morality and force as conflict resolution strategy

  • If policy and actions are heavily reliant on morality, it’s critically important to not be seen as hypocritical and amoral
  • constant use of force results in resistance and depletion of resources

Adjustments and compromise

  • When to do so: when moral force is bankrupt and one is in physically weaker position
  • Negotiation with adversary
  • Seek a less ambitious and more scoped down course
  • The weak has no place for Haughtiness

On Mastery

Path towards mastery

  1. mastery of self
    • reflection
    • studying of people who lead highly effective lives
    • doing incremental training to develop virtues
  2. mastery of environment
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Farming
    • Construction
  3. mastery of others

Strictly adhere to this progression to do otherwise would lead to unintentional straying from the path

General advice on acquiring mastery

  • mastery anywhere leads to mastery everywhere
    • Aspire to the term Universal Genius
    • It is not naturally inborn. It is cultivated through constant focus on mastery
  • Focus on fundamentals
    • focus on even the most trivial and mundane matters
    • Let no details slip.
  • no excuses
    • What you are in one place, you are everywhere
    • We become our LIVED philosophy.
    • Do something because you want to do it. Drop the notion of feeling divided between two options
  • bitterness and neglect lead to a small soul
  • do not become distracted by status accrued over past successful missions

Crisis management:


  1. assessment of situation
  2. risk mitigation
  3. Immediate security

Categories of objectives

  1. Must – needs to happen or no need
  2. Want – terms you haggle over and trade off on
  3. Nice – Bonus. It’s ok if it does not happen

Anticipation / Foresight – Sun Tze’s Art of War

  • General principles
    • If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.
    • If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat
    • If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will fail in every battle
  • Advice
    • One’s own personal feelings is the biggest enemy.
      • It prevents seeing the world with neutral eyes.
      • We filter the world according to how optimistic or pessimistic we feel
  • To Do
    • To diligently cultivate foresight
    • To operationalize the lessons
    • To always turn mirror on oneself.
    • To understand how one’s immediate present interacts with the near future
    • Delete all personal narrative, feelings, trivial details from your analysis
    • To practice restrain
    • Beware of under/over investment

Game playing: Classical versus Romantic mode

  • Players play game in very different ways based on their outlook and orientation to life and these outlooks and orientations can be studied and understood.
    • Generally reliable
    • Player’s objective
  • Modes
    • Classical:
      • Maximizing minimum gain
      • Prefers to patiently let others lose by making mistakes, rather than trying to force them to make mistakes
    • Romantic:
      • Maximizing maximum gain at the cost of increasing potential losses
      • Prefers to force others into making mistakes

market leadership

  • Characteristics
    • Better margin
    • Larger market share
    • Large economies of scale
    • Ease in attracting talents
    • Pay less for the same talents
  • Things to focus on in teams, friendships and alliances
    • Check their level of commitment
    • How steadfast when in crisis
    • What is their quality
  • Operating guidelines
    • Account for things that could be accounted for
    • Do not neglect the immeasurable things
    • Set a single standard way to get things done and ensure everyone knows it.
      • Each additional possible decision increases decision making time by an order of multiple
      • Sun Tze’s art of war
        • The more possibilities you present an enemy, the more diffused he becomes.
        • The more diffused he becomes, the more difficult it is for him to concentrate sufficiently to make a successful attack
    • Reduce wildness by accurate financial accounting


  • Defined: Synchronized subjectivity (beliefs) across a group of people
  • General guidelines
    1. Recognize the intersubjective where it exist
    2. Scrutinize and eliminate foolishly inherited intersubjective notions
      • Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away
    3. The pragmatic and un-opinionated person can shape the intersubjective to greatly benefit humanity
      • The world needs people who can think clearly about norms and institutions, and who can construct new ones when it’s called-for
      • Eradicate foolish opinions
      • Zen precept: The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences/ When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised

Heart of the matter

  • Never loose sight of the most important objective
    • First figure out what is happening
    • Ask what needs to be done
    • Forget about what do I want to do
    • Extremely crucial for managerial success
  • Metrics of companies
    • Product
    • Revenue
    • Growth
    • Financing
  • Productivity and Habit Change Routines – daily/weekly
    • Checking in
    • Monitoring
    • Making adjustments


  • Once you discover a method that is very powerful and potent, you need to ensure it reliably happens all the time to get the relevant gains
  • Happens in this flow:
    1. Philosophy – why are we doing something
    2. Strategy – how we should go about it, the guidelines and standard operating procedures
    3. Tactics – the actual action that gets taken
    4. Operationalize – repeated over and over again
  • Always: Prioritize Time Reduction over Quality Improvement
  • Watch out for Secondary effects – used pair indicators

Faith-based versus Works-based world views

  • Framework
    • Faith based
      • ability to double down repeatedly in the face of failure
      • lead to runaway bad outcomes and repeatedly reinforcing failed policies
      • leads to endurance during a long struggle and overcoming
      • Promotes cognitive dissonance and gross hypocrisy
      • Genuinely faith-based leaders are commonly observed early in movements but never later in movements
    • Works based
      • terrific under wise and good leadership
      • need to guard against short sightedness
  • General advice
    • Understand your default position
    • Know what the weakness of the position is

Office and Prestige / Ordinal versus Cardinal

  • Successful discharge of duties by person holding an office will result in the increase of the office’s prestige
  • Increased levels of Prestige will lead to successful vying for office not for the sake of discharging the duties but for the prestige of the office
  • Important to consider succession – truly effective people are rare

Legibility versus Illegibility

  • Legible:
    • Consistent and coherent
    • Tends to be artificially designed
    • Not resilient against actual environmental stress
    • Highly transparent
  • Illegible:
    • Inconsistent and incoherent
    • Tends to be organically evolved
    • Not very transparent
    • Highly resilient against actual environment stress
    • Sun Tze’s Art of War: “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt”

Further readings

  • Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow
  • Dr Lewis Pulsipher, The Art of Negotiation in Diplomacy
  • Roguelike, Sebastian Marshal
  • Early Retirement Extreme: Jacob Lund Fisker
  • The Motivation Hacker
  • The education of Cyrus: Xenophon

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