The Lindy Effect

The Lindy effect is a proposition derived from the discussions amongst comedians at Lindy’s New York deli. Who will flourish and why?

Albert Goldman mentioned it in a 1964 article in The New Republic.

… the life expectancy of a television comedian is [inversely] proportional to the total amount of his exposure on the medium. If, pathetically deluded by hubris, he undertakes a regular weekly or even monthly program, his chances of survival beyond the first season are slight; but if he adopts the conservation of resources policy favored by these senescent philosophers of “the Business”, and confines himself to “specials” and “guest shots”, he may last to the age of Ed Wynn [d. age 79 in 1966 while still acting in movies]

The idea of durability by way of adaptation to the context has been expanded upon by Madelbrot and Taleb.


Taleb and Mandelbrot agree that anything that has been around a long time tends to have changed and become robust. It fills a need and it has changed to accommodate changing context.

There are many things in our lives that have been around a long time. Some are taken for granted. Democracy, free markets, religion, and family to name a few. All are attacked from time to time and all come out the other side stronger and more relevant.

Products are similar

No durviving product looks as it did 50 years ago. Even things we think of as mature, change. Tide, Crest toothpaste, Corn Flakes, Gillette razor blades, and Ivory soap adapt. Packaging, price, environmental sensitivity, and usability are quite different now. We can expect they will continue to adapt and therefore, continue to survive.

Some did not adapt to changing standards and their life ends or is greatly minimized. When I was young, Lifebuoy soap was a staple. No more. Its carbolic acid, a phenol, content made it a health hazard by modern standards. It has been reintroduced without phenols but you will have trouble finding any.

When durability matters look for the Lindy Effect for guidance

Financial planning is a hygiene factor. It should not dominate your life. If you do it well you won’t notice it. If you do it poorly, bad things will happen. In that arrangement of outcomes, using durable products is a life simplifying move.

Insurance is one such durable product. A form of catastrophe insurance appeared in the Code of Hammurabi in 1750 BC. More general forms were common in Genoa by the 1300s. The first life insurance appeared in the early 17th century.

If a product has lasted in use for centuries, it is reasonable to believe it meets a need common to all people. Overlook it at your peril.

Investment funds and corporations have been with us for centuries too. They operate on the theory that ownership and operation can often be usefully separated to the benefit of all. Skilled people get additional capital to work with and unskilled people get a share of the returns from the skilled.

Record keeping and financial controls are ancient. Double entry bookkeeping dates back to at least 1340 in Genoa. People have always found financial records and reporting to be useful. The ancient ledgers have become computerized based systems, but the purpose remains the same. You cannot control your affairs without knowing what they are and what they could be.

Charities work the same way. You cannot do everything you might like for others. Working and giving money to those who have the time and talent serves everyone.

Seek robust products to make your life easier

In the early part of the 20th century someone approached the Steinway Company and claimed to have a better way to make grand pianos. The Steinway response.

“Come back in 50 years or so and we will be able to tell you how it worked out.”

Brands represent the Lindy Effect

Be sure the fundamentals of life are looked after with things that are likely to do what they claim. Can you trust important things to unproven methods.

New and exciting is without a guarantee.

I arrange life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate.

In previous careers, I have been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you. 705-927-4770

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