Leadership ideas enriched by time

Leandro Cota Hevia
4 min readJan 9, 2022

An idea that has been exposed to being argued against, contradicted, or polemicized for a long period of time is likely worth studying, yet more often than not the new, trendy ideas are the ones that get most of our attention.

The concept of using the passage of time as a filter for pondering ideas is presented by Nassim Taleb in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, where he proposes that the future life expectancy of an idea is proportional to their current age.

“If a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years. But, and that is the main difference, if it survives another decade, then it will be expected to be in print another fifty years. This, simply, as a rule, tells you why things that have been around for a long time are not ‘aging’ like persons, but ‘aging’ in reverse. Every year that passes without extinction doubles the additional life expectancy.”

This phenomenon is called The Lindy Effect, and its story is in itself proof of how time enriches ideas.

It all started in an article published by the academic Albert Goldman in the New Republic magazine in 1964, claiming the exact contrary thing to what the concept means for us today. Lindy used to be a deli in New York City where comedians hung out and gathered to discuss the business of the day. From the folk wisdom that dribbled out of long whiskies and longer nights emerged the idea that comedians had a fixed amount of material in their lives, hence they could either blow it all fast in specials and long shows, or sparingly dish it out to make their careers last a lifetime. The fewer appearances a comedian had made in the past, the shorter their career, the longer it would last. Goldman named this piece of street wisdom ‘Lindy’s Law’.

But in 1982 this law was taken up by the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot in his book The Fractal Geometry of Nature. Mandelbrot expressed mathematically that for certain things such as ideas and technologies, future life expectancy is proportional to the past. His definition replaced the word ‘Law’ with ‘Effect’ but, most importantly, flipped the meaning of the concept:

“The Lindy effect is the razor of time — a law which describes the longevity of concepts. For some ideas and technologies, their mortality decreases over time.”

This is the core idea that Taleb then builds on. If you want to know how long an idea will endure, then the first question you should ask is how long it has already existed. The older it is, the more likely it is to go on surviving. This also aids us in explaining why so many seemingly earthshaking new developments end up forgotten or disproved.

Let us escape the paradox of studying an idea that is somewhat new and that it states that the ideas worth pursuing are those that have endured the passage of time by establishing that this idea is not new at all. Not really. While it has been brilliantly put and popularized by Taleb, it has been around long enough to stand the passage of time.

The following extract is from the Plato dialogue Timaeus. It is part of a conversation between an Egyptian priest and Solon, one of the seven sages of Greece, in the context of one of Solon’s travels to the Nile Delta.

“Solon, you Greeks are always children: there is not such a thing as an old Greek. You are young in soul, every one of you. For therein you possess not a single belief that is ancient and derived from old tradition, nor yet one science that is hoary with age.”

So here it is: science that is hoary with age. Ideas that have gotten through the test of time. This passage not only solidifies the concept proposed by Taleb, but also gives us a second lesson: human nature doesn’t change, and the persistence of behaviors across millennia makes the lessons of antiquity potent.

Based on these learnings I have looked for advice and ideas on leadership proposed the farthest away in time I could think of, looking to the ancient world for useful tradition, for ideas that age in reverse. While doing so I came across concepts on leadership in a philosophy masterclass provided by Christián Carman in the Baikal Institute, in which Christián categorized and revised leadership lessons exposed in Plato dialogues.

I will study the subjects of how to treat others and knowing oneself on reflections exemplified and predicated upon by Socrates, emphasizing on the aspects of leadership as a positive influence, an act of companionship in which the objective is to heighten the best in others. The next article, the first of these series, will be on leadership as an act of maieutics, aiding people to discover and perfect their own ideas.

Use laws that are old, but food that is fresh.
– Periander of Corinth, circa 500 BC

The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries.
― René Descartes.

Amamos lo que no conocemos, lo ya perdido.
El barrio que fue las orillas.
Los antiguos, que ya no pueden defraudarnos, porque son mito y esplendor.
― Jorge Luis Borges, Lo Nuestro.