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Category: Foundations

Foundational content – the core concepts upon which NoLessThan.com is based.

The Logical Thinking Process, Part One: Five Simple Pieces

What if there was a step by step way to solving any problem?

A simple, straight-forward path to getting everything you ever wanted?

To avoiding pitfalls and obstacles? To maximizing your potential and living your best life?

Well…there is.

It’s called the Logical Thinking Process.

It’s got five simple pieces.

Five simple ways to think more effectively and see the world more clearly.

Over the next few emails, I’m going to be showing you how you can immediately apply these steps to your own life.

But first:

Let’s talk about problems.


What is the Logical Thinking Process?

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.”

  • W. Edward Deming

Every human organization is a system.

This applies to “organizations” like your workplace…

But also to your relationships.

Your marriage is an organization of two. Your family is an organization of three or four or five or more.

The social groups you interact with are systems. The restaurant you order takeout from is a system….and, of course, the app you used to order is a system as well.

Systems grow in complexity as they grow in size. Changes in one part of the system affect other parts of the system. Often, these chains of causation grow so long and so complicated that the true “inciting event” may be completely invisible to us.

It’s the “butterfly effect”: we don’t see snow and know that a butterfly has flapped its wings in India. We see the effect, but we rarely understand the cause.

That doesn’t stop us from placing blame, though.

When something happens we tend to assume the cause is “proximal” – i.e., nearby. What happened immediately before our problem emerged? Surely, that must be the cause, right?

These dual tendencies – to miss the true causes of an event, and to place blame for the problems we run into – lead us to blame ourselves for most of our problems. After all, WE are the proximal cause of most of the things that happen to us.

Weigh more than I’d like? That’s my fault. I should have more willpower.

Needed to study, but didn’t? That’s my fault. Why can’t I focus?

Hurt someone I love? That’s my fault. Why am I so careless?

It’s a very, very short leap from my personal shortcomings are the source of my problems…

To I am not a very good person.

And that’s a tough place to get out of, once you’re there.

But, as Deming said: A bad system will defeat a good person every time.

It’s pointless to shame ourselves, degrade ourselves, beat ourselves up…

If we haven’t at least tried to address our problem from a systems perspective, first.

Weigh more than I’d like? Maybe if I remove trigger foods from the house…

Needed to study, but didn’t? Maybe it’s too noisy…what if I got noise-canceling headphones…?

Hurt someone I love? Is there something in our dynamic that sets me off? Could I prevent that from happening…?

That’s what the Logical System Process is all about:

We don’t focus on the person…

We focus on the systems that the person operates within.

And that makes all the difference.


What is the Logical Thinking Process, anyway?

It’s a process. You can run absolutely any problem you want through it – from purely personal issues to international.

There are five steps.

Each step has a specific purpose, and each will move you further towards solving your target problem.

The first step, the Goal Tree, is used to define a single goal we aim to achieve and what is necessary to get there.

Next is the Current Reality Tree, which explores why we have not already reached the goal. What’s in our way?

Once we define why we haven’t already solved our problem, we often discover deep and seemingly-insurmountable conflicts within us. The third step is to solve these conflicts with a Conflict Resolution Diagram.

The fourth step, the Future Reality Tree, is used to map out a strategy to achieve our goal.

Finally, the Prerequisite Tree is used to define the individual steps you need to take right now.

And that’s it.

Sometimes, you need all five steps to address a problem…

Sometimes, you’ll only need one or two.

I said these steps were simple…and they are.

That doesn’t mean that they’ll be easy, however.

Thinking logically – really examining our biases and assumptions about the world – can be difficult.

They payoffs, however, are incredible…and will radically transform your life.

Next week, we get right into things…with the Goal Tree.

Better Angels

This post was originally an email sent to the Better Questions Email List. For more like it, please sign up – it’s free.

This post is about the election, but it is NOT about politics.

I would really, really appreciate it if you would give this one a read.

Grab a coffee, get a quiet place, and give me a bit of your time. Even if you’re sick of the news by now.

If you like it, please do me a favor and share it with someone who’d like it.

OK? OK. 🙂

—-
Should I extend empathy to my enemies?
—-

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Abraham Lincoln

“Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people.”

James Baldwin

It’s been quite the week, eh?

Emotions have run high during this election. The electorate is more driven, more engaged, and more motivated than ever before (at least, as measured by voter turnout, which sites at a record high of 72.1% as of this writing).

As a result, the reaction to the A.P.s call for a Biden victory was also extremely strong.

I am not going to talk about the election itself, or the decision to call the race despite the Trump administration’s legal challenges, in this email. If you’ve been repeatedly “doomscrolling” or “joyscrolling” over the past few days, this is something different.

I want to talk about us.

You know. The People.

I want to talk about what this election – and our politics in general – is doing to us.

And I want to start with empathy.

—-

It wasn’t long after the A.P. announced their results that I started seeing reactions like these all over Twitter:

(Below are a few random samples from my timeline)


It’s very clear that many on the left don’t feel empathetically inclined to those who support or voted for Trump.

For many who remember the feeling of disillusionment that followed the 2016 election – and the mockery that came after…

…2020 feels like a time to even the score.

They don’t deserve empathy because they would never give it to us.

Let me make an argument:

This is completely the wrong way to go.

I know emotions are high, and changes are that if you’re a Biden voter, you’re not feeling particularly forgiving.

And if you’re a Trump voter, you probably don’t think “the left” has any empathy in them, anyway.

Wherever you fall on that spectrum, give me this email to make my case.
Let’s start at the beginning:

What is empathy?

—-

Empathy is Not Sympathy

Empathy is a form of perspective-taking.

Former FBI hostage-negotiator Chris Voss defines empathy to his students as “the ability to recognize the perspective of a counterpart, and the vocalization of that recognition.”

It’s critical to understand that when we discuss empathy, we do not mean “sympathy,” which is feeling someone else’s feelings.

Neither is empathizing the same as agreeing. Empathy does mean that we accept or validate another person’s thoughts or feelings. We don’t even need to understand why the person feels the way that they do.

The core element of empathy is presence. We are truly present, here, in the moment, aware of what the other person is experiencing. We try to perceive it as clearly as possible, without judgement, and reflect that perception back.

So…if empathy is not agreement or understanding, why is it so important?

Three reasons:

1. Empathy is the beginning of all communication;
2. Empathy is tactically effective;
3. We need it ourselves.

—-

Failure to Communicate

If you deeply disagree with a great number of your fellow Americans (as I do, on any number of issues)…

The uncomfortable fact remains that they still…you know…get to vote.
The virtues of democracy – and it’s endless frustrations – all stem from the fact that we need to accommodate one another. The minority often has power enough to make any change you care about difficult.

And while Joe Biden and the Democrats may be riding high at this very moment, they will still have to get things done. They’ll need the support of Congress, and, sooner or later, they will need the support of some Republicans.

If you care about societal change, you need to convince people to support you.

In other words, you need to communicate.

And all communication begins with empathy.

Note that I didn’t say empathy improves communication, or that it makes communication more effective. Communication literally begins with empathy…and can’t exist without it.

Marshall Rosenberg, the author of Nonviolent Communication, puts it this way:

“When we stay with empathy, we allow speakers to touch deeper levels of themselves….

When people are upset, they often need empathy before they can hear what is being said to them. “

You may disagree with someone’s political beliefs. You may think that all of their suppositions are incorrect. You may think their beliefs are dangerous, or harmful.

But if your goal is to convince them of this fact, you will need to truly hear and reflect back their needs. They will have to feel understood before they can actually hear what you are saying.

If you’ve had an uncomfortable or confrontational political argument lately, this is why. There is little to no actual communication taking place. There is no exchange of ideas, or evaluation of evidence.

Instead, we desperately seek to be understood. We seek a sense of connection and empathy…

(and yes, this is true of those who seek to “trigger” and “own the libs,” just as it is true of those who believe that every Trump supporter is a white supremacist, including the historic numbers of African Americans who voted for him)

…and until that basic requirement is met, all we hear is noise. Threat. Blame. Other.

Again – this does not mean you have to agree. You certainly don’t. It doesn’t mean you have to validate, or legitimate, beliefs you abhor (I would never validate the beliefs of the QAnon truthers, for example, who sought to harass me online and threaten my children).

But if communication is important to you – and it should be – then it has to start with empathy.

—-

Tactical Empathy

Communication begins with empathy…

But influence is strengthened by it.

If your goal is to “move the needle” of our democracy – to build a coalition, launch a movement, pass a law, or right a wrong – then empathy will be one of the primary tools you use.

Salesmen and women have known this for centuries. In any sales training you ever take, what’s the very first thing you do?

It isn’t list your product features. It isn’t finding the prospect’s pain.

It’s building rapport.

It is a core element of human nature that we’re far more likely to work with people we like, and whom we believe are like us. And empathy gives us a tactical advantage in building that impression.

Let’s return to Chris Voss. Voss was a hostage negotiator for the FBI, and has spent years training people in negotiation tactics. He’s hardly the touchy-feely type. And yet, Voss begins his negotiations in the exact same way laid out in Nonviolent Communication – with empathy.

“Tactical empathy is understanding the feelings and mindset of another in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow.

“It all starts with the universally applicable premise that people want to be understood and accepted. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make to get there.

“By listening intensely, a negotiator demonstrates empathy and shows a sincere desire to better understand what the other side is experiencing.”

Communication begins with empathy…but influence is strengthened by it.
Once people hear what you say, we still need them to change their behavior. It’s one thing to rail on about racists and socialists, but if you actually care about the problems of the world than we need people to do something different. And changing the behavior of humans is notoriously difficult.

Want your kid to stop finger-painting the walls?

Figure out what their needs are through deep listening and tactical empathy.

Want your uncle to stop sharing articles about vaccines during Thnaksgiving?

Figure out what his needs are through deep listening and tactical empathy.

Once someone feels heard and understood, their defenses come down. They open up – even if just a little bit – to new ideas and experiences. Fight or flight is replaced by receptiveness to influence.

Will you always be successful? Of course not.

But will you do FAR more good in the world? Yes.

And that’s what this is all about, right?

It’s not about winning the argument.

It’s about changing the world.

—-

Going First

Finally, there is an even deeper-seated reason we should extend empathy to those we disagree with:

We need it ourselves.

I think often about the James Baldwin quote at the beginning of this email…

“Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people.”

Baldwin certainly had more than his share of “open wounds.” He wrote vividly about race, homosexuality, about living in a society that didn’t “see” him.

Ultimately, the practice of empathy is just as much about facing our own wounds as it is about recognizing the wounds of others. And right now there is precious little of that to go around.

I think one of the reasons our public discourse has become so toxic – and why we have become increasingly polarized, with our political positions drifting further and further apart – is that we are all desperately seeking empathy. We need to feel seen, heard, understood; we are social animals by nature, and the feelings of isolation and alienation that are typical of of our current society are experienced as distress.

We feel like we’re under attack all the time, which makes us angry. And the less we feel heard, the angrier we get. The angrier we get, the less capable we are of feeling empathy.

Rosenberg acknowledges this directly:

“It is impossible for us to give something to another if we don’t have it ourselves. Likewise, if we find ourselves unable or unwilling to empathize despite our efforts, it is usually a sign that we are too starved for empathy to be able to offer it to others.”

Like a playground fight: 

You hit me, so I hit you, so you hit me…

On and on until everyone’s got a bloody nose and two black eyes.

Ultimately, we need to give empathy because we need to receive empathy.

Which means that someone needs to go first.

Someone needs to be the one to stop the cycle of recrimination and anger. Someone needs to be the one to stop and listen.

And no – you shouldn’t have to be the one to go first. Those other people should have already done it..

And yes – you have every right to be angry over what they said to you in the past. Over how you were treated. It was unfair, and unjust.

And yes – the other side has acted badly in the past. You have been mischaracterized. Words have been put in your mouth. None of that was right.

But the fact remains that unless someone goes first, you will never get what you need.

You won’t be able to communciate.

You won’t be able to persuade.

You won’t be understood.

Children are obsessed with “fairness” – with evening the score, with everything being equal.

“He hit me, so I hit him” is the oldest moral code known to man – “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is deep inside our collective subconscious.
But just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s effective.

It won’t make the world a better place. And it certainly won’t advance YOUR agenda over anything except the shortest of terms.

Get rid of fairness. Get rid of what you “shouldn’t have to” do. Get rid of the past.

If you want to make the world a better place, you will need to start with empathy.

So, yes:

Extend empathy to Trump supporters who told you “Fuck Your Feelings” for the last four years.

And, yes:

Extend empathy to the Biden supporters who called you a racist for the last four years.

You don’t have to like it.

You don’t have to agree.

You just have to listen.

And see what happens.

Rhinoceros

——-

Where is it written?

——-

I recently came face to face with irrationality.

I was attacked online…

Called terrible things…

Directly threatened.

Why?

I pointed out an inaccuracy.

My crime was naively wandering into the world of online conspiracies, believing I could set things right with “better information.”

Here’s the story:

A mixed martial arts account I followed on Instagram posted a story about a California law called “SB-145.”

The post claimed that SB-145 “legalized pedophilia” as long as the criminal was “within 10 years of the age of the victim.”

If that sounds insane to you, that’s because it is.

Who would pass such a law? 

Who could possibly benefit politically from such a thing? 

Why wouldn’t every single TV station and newspaper be screaming about it?

The experience was very similar to the one I described in Just Perfect, where I wrote about the Kevin Carter story:

“We are much less likely to give it the scrutiny it deserves when it reinforces our preconceived notions about how the world works.

…to create any narrative – be it historical, or social, or personal – we must first sand down the edges of reality.

The problem with the internet is that in all it’s chaos, it’s very easy to miss the narratives…

And mistake them for reality.

So the next time you find yourself immersed in something that seems too good to be true, too perfect, too chef’s kiss….

Ask yourself:

‘Is this real?

Or is it Just Perfect?’”

After a brief Google search, I discovered a few things:

– SB145 in no way legalizes sex with minors. Sex with any minor remains illegal in California.

– Existing law in California already gave prosecutors some leeway in deciding whether to charge offenders with a felony or a misdemeanor in cases where vaginal penetration was present.

– This meant that gay teens, having sex underage, would always be charged with felonies, while heterosexual teens could receive leniency if the court felt it was called for. SB-145 sought to remedy this.

– The 10 year age gap is in the law to make sure it doesn’t get applied past a certain age range, regardless of the particulars of the situation.

That’s it.

(Don’t take my word for it. If you wish to read more about SB145, you can access the entire text of the bill here. You can also find coverage of the bill in the Los Angeles Times and in USAToday.)

My “crime” – for which I was harassed, bullied, stalked, etc – was posting the text of the bill in question on the original post.

Now, maybe you think SB-145 is a terrible idea. Maybe you think it’s great.

Maybe you think the age range should be larger, or smaller, or shouldn’t be there at all.

These are all perfectly reasonable positions to hold. Debate is the lifeblood of democracy, and should be encouraged.

What isn’t a valid position to hold is that all interpretations of reality are equal, and any rebuttal of your position is evidence of a satanic conspiracy to kidnap your children.

Because…yeah.

Irrationality is not new. 

Mob mentality is not new. 

In-group thinking and “logic-proof compartments” are not new.

What is new is the extent to which the internet makes irrationality viral.

Case in point:

After my comment on the original post because a flash-point for harassment, I blocked the account in question and everyone involved. 

Done and done, right?

Not quite.

People found my comment, then created fake accounts to make wild allegations on my personal profile.

Other people – unconnected in any way – saw these comments, then commented on them, raising their visibility.

Still other people saw those comments, and soon there was a post on Reddit, asking about the “allegations” against me.

“I can’t find anything on Google,” one post read. “Does anyone know anything? It’s really disturbing, if true.”

Disturbing, if true.

People responded, expressing dismay, wondering if I was secretly a monster this whole time.

Because there must be something to it, right?

After all, there were all these comments…

…And where there’s smoke, there must be fire.

See what happened here?

An idea, with zero evidence, zero connection to reality…

Had somehow manifested itself into reality.

If I hadn’t taken steps to remove the content in question, it would still be out there…

Providing a form of “evidence” to those who sought it out.

Smoke, implying fire.

—-

From this irritating, idiotic, and frustrating experience…

I learned a secret of Power.

Here it is:

You can gain power by becoming expensive to deal with.

Michael Korda wrote about this in his manual of “corporate warfare”, conveniently titled Power:

“A person who has required the reputation for being hysterical, thin-skinned and oversensitive will usually get a raise or a larger office more easily than a placid worker, for the excellent reason that no on wants to provoke a nasty scene….

When you’ve got treat somebody with kid gloves all the time, you pay more attention to them than you would to somebody else, and in the long run, they get more.”

True of the individual…and doubly true of the mob.

Irrationality, mob mentality, herd dynamics…

Whatever you want to call it, it spreads because regular people choose to do and say nothing.

Because it’s simply too expensive.

Most people are simply trying to live their lives. They don’t want to be stressed, or worried, or looking over their shoulders all the time.

Commenting on someone’s online profile may not seem like a big deal; amplified across dozens or hundreds of accounts, it can be terrifying. It is a “tax” on speech – making it just painful enough to speak up or speak out that regular people choose to look the other way.

In the incredible Among The Thugs, Bill Buford describes how large, unruly gangs of soccer “hooligans” would get to games via train, despite not having any money: 

They’d simply make it difficult to make them pay.

“They’d scream, holler, and make a fuss. They’d crowd into trains in large throngs, so that it was impossible to pick out any individual. Instead of handing over a ticket when asked, they’d make a game of handing over something else – a sock, some belly-button lint, a cigarette – until the ticket-taker simply moved on…

‘[The gangs] had learned two principles about human nature—especially human nature as it had evolved in Britain.

The first was that no public functionary, and certainly not one employed by British Rail or London Transport, wants a difficult confrontation—there is little pride in a job that the functionary believes to be underpaid and knows to be unrewarding and that he wants to finish so that he can go home.

The second principle was the more important: everyone—including the police—is powerless against a large number of people who have decided not to obey any rules. 

Or put another way: with numbers there are no laws.

—–

To be clear:

I don’t think I’m “better” than these people.

I don’t think I’m “above” irrationality or the rush of the mob.

We all get fired up by misleading news stories, share articles we haven’t read, form opinions on things we barely understand.

But we have an ethical responsibility to resist, as much as possible, the lure of the irrational.

The alternative is not simply misinformation…

It is destruction.

Eugene Ionesco knew this.

The avant-garde playwright had watched his homeland of Romania fall under the sway of fascism. 

He wrote vividly about the experience in his haunting play, Rhinoceros.

In Rhinoceros, Berenger, the everyman main character, watches in horror as the citizens of his small town all gradually transform into rhinoceroses.

BERENGER: [He opens the staircase door and goes and knocks at the landing door; he bangs repeatedly on it with his fist.] There’s a rhinoceros in the building! Get the police!

OLD MAN: [poking his head out] What’s the matter?

BERENGER: Get the police! There’s a rhinoceros in the house!

VOICE OF OLD MAN’S WIFE: What are you up to, Jean? Why are you making all that noise?

OLD MAN: [to his wife] I don’t know what he’s talking about. He’s seen a rhinoceros.

BERENGER: Yes, here in the house. Get the police!

OLD MAN: What do you think you’re up to, disturbing people like that. What a way to behave! [He shuts the door in his face.]

The horror is magnified by the fact that nobody seems particularly upset about this transformation.

The intellectuals rationalize and explain it.

The religious adopt a posture of resignation.

The political assure him that there are “good points on both sides.”

DUDARD: Oh stop thinking about it. Really, you attach too much importance to the whole business. Jean’s case isn’t symptomatic, he’s not a typical case—you said yourself he was proud. In my opinion—if you’ll excuse me saying this about your friend—he was far too excitable, a bit wild, an eccentric. You mustn’t base your judgments on exceptions. It’s the average case you must consider.

BERENGER: I’m beginning to see daylight. You see, you couldn’t explain this phenomenon to me. And yet you just provided me with a plausible explanation. Yes, of course, he must have been in a critical condition to have got himself into that state. He must have been temporarily unbalanced.

At some point, the balance is tipped; people switch from explaining and excusing the rhinoceroses to accommodating them. 

Bewilderment becomes resignation, which becomes acceptance.

Before long, only Berenger is left. The streets are overrun:

BERENGER: There’s a whole herd of them in the street now! An army of rhinoceroses, surging up the avenue…! [He looks all around.] Where can I get out? Where can I get out? If only they’d keep to the middle of the road! They’re all over the pavement as well.

Where can I get out?

Where can I get out?

Of course, by then, it’s too late. 

With numbers, there are no laws.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Nowhere is it written that we have to give in to our worst impulses:

Our tendency to trust what’s in print (regardless of who wrote it…)

Our tendency to jump to conclusions (regardless of whether we understand the issue…)

Our tendency to dehumanize our intellectual opponents (regardless of whether we know them or not…)

Our tendency to lose ourselves…

And become the rhinoceros.

Nowhere is it written that it must be so.

So:

How do we resist?

How do we fight?

How do we retain what makes us reasonable, what unites us as citizens, what makes us human?

For one, we can simply hold ourselves to a higher standard.

To stop, as I have, sharing articles we haven’t read completely.

We can require a higher level of journalistic integrity from our news sources.

We can keep an open mind, especially on complex issues.

To admit, without shame, that the world is complicated and that we’re probably wrong.

But I also think we need to admit that these conversations – 

the important ones, like the one we’re having right now, you and I –

These conversations can’t happen on social media.

Every aspect of the online experience makes deep and reasonable conversation unlikely, if not impossible.

The distraction…

The anonymity…

The noise.

These platforms pretend to be the “town square,” a place for people to meet, exchange ideas, and debate…

But they aren’t.

At worst, they are Skinner Boxes, rewarding our very worst tendencies.

At best?

They are the city streets upon which the rhinoceroses trample each other.

We can do better. Be better.

Build something better.

This newsletter?

This is me, trying to build something.

A place for thought.

For becoming a better person.

For intellectual humility.

For teaching.

For tolerance.

Is it working? 

I don’t know.

But I am trying.

And you can do the same.

Could be a conversation at the dinner table…

Could be a text-chain with friends…

Could be a book you pass to a colleague…

Or holding yourself to a higher standard when you debate politics.

It doesn’t have to be big.

It doesn’t have to cost anything.

But we need you to build something better.

This is how we fight.

This is how we resist.

This is how we win.

Yours,

Dan

—–

Cool Stuff To Read:

JillLepore may be my favorite historian.

This article – The Last Time Democracy Almost Died – is both haunting and hopeful. 

Highly recommended.

Normalbaum


Is This Legible?


You breathe in.

Your hand rests on the door handle.

Your first day.

I can do this, you think.

You push the door open and stride into the room.

You make your way to your desk, shoulders back, conscious of your posture, your smile, keeping a brisk, “can do” attitude about you.

Projecting confidence.

You look out.

They’re all spread out. Some have their heads down. Others are lounging with their feet outstretched, sending an unmistakable message:

“We don’t want you here.”

Some have piercings. Others seem quiet. Still others look ready to go, but not wanting to seem too eager. Can’t know what the others would say, after all.

A pencil, restlessly tapping.

One whispers to another. They laugh.

If I don’t turn this class around, you think, none of these kids are going to graduate.

How do you do it?

——-

Every year, all across the country, teachers –

(You know, that profession that we all agree is critical for the functioning of a healthy democracy? The one we can’t manage to pay very much?)

– face situations like this one.

It’s scary, and frustrating, and difficult, and rewarding – all at the same time.

But really, this situation isn’t much difficult from ANY situation where we need to change things for the better.

You come in with high hopes. You KNOW there’s a gap between where things are and where they should be.

Imagine you’re this new teacher. You’ve got this room full of vaguely-threatening, disrespectful, unmotivated kids. You know for a fact that if you fail them – if you can’t make this happen – they’ll all be worse-off.

How do we go about making a change?

First things first – we need to know how we’re being graded. We need a measure.

It might be scores on a standardized test.

It might be their grade point average.

It might be improvement in reading.

While some measures might be better than others, we need a measure, regardless.

Once we’ve determined a measure, we need to understand what our current score is. In other words, we need a baseline.

If we have an objective standard we’re trying to meet, we need to know how far off we are.

Once we know how we’re being measured, and we know where we currently stand…

We need to know where we’re going.

In other words, we need a standard.

What does our score need to be to qualify as a success?

Are we far behind? Just a tad off?

Knowing which it is will determine a lot about how we proceed.

This process:

1. Defining the measure;

2. Establishing a baseline;

3. Setting a standard…

…is the starting point of all improvement.

It’s not just a way of trying to improve a class, but the exact same framework you’d use to start a business, perfect your physique, learn a language, or colonize Mars.

This, here?

Is the starting point of everything.

The foundation of all success.

And we can summarize it in one word:

Legibility.

———

I’d like to switch subjects for just a moment, to:

(And yes – I bet you know where this is going…)

The birth of scientific forestry.

The 18th century in Europe was one of rationalization.

Everywhere, science and mathematics were being applied to traditional practices. The hope was that, by applying reason and modern knowledge to time-honored ways of doing things, progress could be accelerated.

Scientific Forestry was the name for this process of rationalization as applied to traditional forestry practices.

If you were a landholding noble in the 17th century, forests were incredibly important. Wood was the primary fuel source, important not just for heating your keep in the winter but also as an engine of war. Fire was necessary for metal smelting, not to mention crafting arrows.

Imagine that your neighbor, the Duchess of Flapjack, had been making sorties into your territory. War seems to be on the horizon. It’s critical that you begin to marshal your forces and make preparations.

A steady supply of wood will be instrumental to your success. But how much wood can you expect from the nearby forests this year?

This question of wood production was incredibly difficult to answer. Oftentimes the exact outline of a forest was unclear. How big was it, exactly? What kind of trees were in it?

Local people had a rough idea – one that perfectly suited their traditional uses of that particular resource – but nothing approaching the accuracy required by local government.

Enter scientific forestry.

Assayers were dispatched to establish the exact boundaries of a forest. Tree counters wandered around, marking trees and making exact tallies. Experiments were conducted to figure out how many cords of wood could be expected from a certain species of tree over a given period of time. “Top Producers” were ascertained.

For the forest scientists (Forstwissenschaftler) the goal was always to “deliver the greatest possible constant volume of wood.”

A measure was defined (cords of wood produced…)

A baseline was recorded (historically, the forest produces X cords of wood…)

And a standard was established (could we somehow engineer an increase to 2X cords of wood?)

Entities were named, scored, measured and tallied.

The chaos of the forest became legible.

It is through these layers of abstraction – these human categorizations – that an incredibly complex reality becomes real to us for the first time. We are literally able to see the trees within the forest.

Heinrich Cotta – the father of scientific forestry – had a word for this new, abstracted forest entity: the Normalbaum.

Cotta and his followers used this layer of abstraction to apply scientific principles to the management of natural resources. Thinking in terms of Normalbaum – of, not a tree, with all it’s inherent complexity, but of a number on a spreadsheet – allowed a kind of “forest accounting” to emerge.

As Tore Frängsmyr, J.L. Heilbron, and Robin E. Rider write in The Quatifying Spirit of the 18th Century:

”The annual accounting of the bureaucrat had to be linked with a long-term plan of resource management based on scientific principles. One prominent Forstwissenschaftler , Friedrich von Burgsdorf, called the common problem “keeping the forest’s books,” and defined procedures to follow in terms of the quantities of interest to forestry science.[62] The bond between forestry science and cameralism was the conversion from an amount of wood to its value. From that point, the practitioners could go their separate ways, the cameral official to the preparation of the Geld-Etat , or monetary budget, and the forestry scientist to the Forst-Etat , the budget that compared the yield to what the forest could bear over time.“

It is hard to underestimate what a revolution this was – and what a monumental effect it had on forestry the world over.

Once mathematical abstractions made the forest and it’s output legible, forest scientists began to experiment with different methods of management.

Undergrowth and brush were cleared away.

Insects that damaged valuable tree species were eradicated.

Less-productive trees were replaced by better-producing ones.

And, finally, trees were planted in grids to allow easier access and better care.

Germany (where Cotta’s teachings were implemented) experienced record yields. Their wood production dwarfed that of neighboring states, and provided a lasting economic benefit.

Scientific forestry became the dominant model of natural resource management the world over. Many of Cotta’s principles are still in use today.

Historian Henry Lowood observed (as quoted by James Scott in Seeing Like a State):

These innovations “produced the monocultural, even-age forests that eventually transformed the Normalbaum from abstraction to reality. The German forest became the archetype for imposing on disorderly nature the neatly arranged constructs of science. Practical goals had encouraged mathematical utilitarianism, which seemed, in turn, to promote geometric perfection as the outward sign of the well-managed forest; in turn the rationally ordered arrangements of trees offered new possibilities for controlling nature.”

In the beginning, there was the forest;

In the end, there was the Normalbaum.

The abstraction had become reality.

——————

We will finish the story of the Normalbaum next week…

For now, let’s return to the concept of Legibility.

The universe that surrounds us is infinitely complex.

Through interaction, even seemingly simple systems can take on breath-taking levels of dynamic variance.

In other words:

The world is fucking confusing.

Without legibility, this world is too complex to affect, too complicated for man or woman to master.

It’s a world that is, at it’s depth, religious; dominated by old gods.

The application of abstraction is, in this sense, mankind’s greatest skill. Simplification begets pattern recognition; pattern recognition begets improvement.

It is for this reason that legibility is the foundation of all improvement, all creation, all invention, all progress.

To close the loop on our well-meaning new teacher:

How do we improve the performance of the class?

Well, first, we probably want to figure out their names.

Right?

You’ll probably make a seating chart, and ask everyone to stay in the same seat all year. That way, you’ll memorize their names faster.

Makes the class a little less intimidating.

Maybe you have a conversation with each student individually.

What struggles are they facing?

What are they good at? What’s hard for them?

The picture becomes a bit clearer for each student. You have a little more context now. A little more understanding.

You check with an administrator. It turns out, each of them needs a minimum 3.0 GPA to graduate this year.

That’s your measure. Now you know how progress will be judged.

You go around to each of their teachers, tallying their existing grades and doing some math. You figure out everyone’s existing GPA. The class average is only a 2.0.

Ouch.

That’s your baseline. That’s where you’re starting from.

You now know that for each kid to graduate, they’ll need to raise their individual GPAs to 3.0. You resolve not to let a single kid fail.

That’s your standard.

All attempts at improvement must start with legibility.

You can’t get the kids to graduate without learning their names.

You can’t solve a problem you can’t define.

Just like you can’t get wood from a forest…

Only from a tree.

What could possibly go wrong? 🙂

The Reasonably Rational Thinking Process, Part 2: The Goal Tree

This is Part 2 of our series on the Reasonably Rational Thinking Process. Read Part 1 here.

Dejected, the man once again surveyed his surroundings. Trees, strecthing up towards the sky and blocking the sun, towered everywhere. The seemingly endless columns of bark were broken through only periodically by shafts of anemic light; nowhere was there any indication of a way forward. How can I escape, if I can’t even begin? he thought.

Helplessness may be learned, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

As we discussed in Part 1, helplessness emerges in the face of two primary criteria:

  1. They is no clear cause of the problem; and
  2. There is no clear next action.

The process of solving an intractable problem, then, hinges on two primary elements:

  1. Determing the critical root cause; and
  2. Determining our most effective next action.

We will deal with each of these stages in turn by exploring the Reasonly Rational Thinking Process.

The Reasonably Rational Thinking Process is based on the Logical Thinking Process developed by William (Bill) Dettmer. Dettmer’s system was originally designed to help large organizations take poorly-defined systems problems and slowly, but surely, move towards a solution.

Dettmer summarizes his approach here:

Dettmer’s process is meticulous – he takes a great deal of time breaking down every possible component part of a systemic problem.

He does this because, at the level of large organizations, potential mistakes in defining the nature of systemic problems can lead to massive wastes of time and capital.

The problem for us – people who simply want to think more rationally about the problems we face in our own lives, or in smaller businesses – is that this meticulous approach makes the entire Logical Thinking Process incredibly unwieldy.

For normal, every day problems – or for businesses with less than, say 20 people – I don’t think a full and complete run down of the LTP is necessary to make progress.

In fact, I’d wager that speed of implementation and the ability to get feedback from efforts to make things better is more valuable in those situations than adding 10 points to the “rigorous thinking” scoreboard.

After all, the potential downsides in these scenarios – some wasted time, some wasted effort – is considerably less.

What we need in these instances isn’t a completely Logical Thinking Process – we just need to be Reasonably Rational.

We need to avoid the most common mistakes and pitfalls of complex problem solving…without becoming obsessed with complete logical accuracy.

(This is not a problem with Dettmer’s approach, by the way – in fact, Dettmer’s approach is absolutely the right one for the companies he typically works with.

We’re just going to hack his tools a bit to serve a different market).

With that, let’s explore my own simplified version of the Logical Thinking Process – The Reasonably Rational Thinking Process.

Reasonably Ration Thinking Process #1: The Goal Tree (or, What The F*** am I Doing?)

A huge amount of suffering is caused by the fact that we have no clearly desired outcome.

Many times we think we know what we want – more money, a better job, whatever – but we’re unclear about what, specifically, constitutes those end states.

How much money, exactly? Better job, how – less hous, more pay, better coworkers…?

Many situations call for optimization of one thing or the other – choices must be made.

  • You can lose fat, but not gain muscle.
  • You can maximize revenue, but you’re going to lose profit margin.
  • You can date for variety, but have less time to spend with each person.

If we’re unclear about our priorities, and what really matters, we subconsciously avoid progress for fear and making the wrong choice.

What’s more, problems only exist in relation to a goal; no situation is an issue unless we have a desired alternative.

(Sure, it’s raining. But that’s only a problem if you need it to be sunny because you planned to propose during a picnic and you’ve already packed 400 egg salad sandwiches because you’re a compulsive over-cooker and they’re all going to go bad and start smelling up this uber unless you figure something out).

So, not only is a clear understanding of our goal critical for understanding what to do next…it’s crucial to even understanding the nature of the problem.

And yet…it can be frustratingly hard to know what our goal really is, sometimes.

I recently had a conversation with my wife, who is volunteering for a literacy non-profit. She goes into a middle school once a week to spend about an hour reading aloud with two young students.

Lately she’s been having an issue with keeping the kids on task; they’re still reading, but they often don’t enjoy reading aloud (one of the primary aspects of the program). They’d rather read quietly on their own.

Is this a problem?

Really, it all depends on the goal. Is the goal:

  • The encourage in the kids a love of reading (one of the stated program goals)
  • To improve their ability to read aloud (their teacher’s stated goal)

In this case, it seems these two goals conflict.

(In actuality, they may not – more on that later.)

In any case, it’s hard to determine what action she should take – or whether she should take any action at all – without truly understanding our primary goal.

When you’re in these kinds of situations, the best way to figure out what you really want is by creating a diagram called a Goal Tree.

The Goal Tree

A goal tree takes a broad, overarching aim and breaks it down into actionable component parts.

Basically, it takes a dream and tells you what to work on in order to achieve it.

The best part is, you don’t really need to know the answers beforehand in order to make it. In fact, the process of creating the diagram will itself help you to determine what needs to be done.

I think of the Goal as the benchmark – the thing against which we measure everything we do. Is it moving me towards, or away from, my goal?

Let’s take the above example: My wife’s students are resisting reading aloud.

Before we start addressing and diagnosing the problem, we need to have a clear idea of our goal. So let’s start there.

The first thing we need to ask ourselves is: What’s the ultimate goal of everything we’re doing here?

Another way of phrasing that is:

What’s the one aim towards which all my effort is directed?

It’s OK if we’re not 100% sure how to answer this question right now – we can revise later. But for now, we need a sense of what the big, overarching goal is.

So, for example, our goal could be:

The students are able to read aloud proficiently.

Something about that feels incomplete, right? It practically begs the question: why?

Why do we care if the students can read aloud in class? What’s the point?

Same goes for:

Encourage in the kids a love of reading.

It sounds nice, but again – why? Why do we care if they have a love of reading?

Let’s think it through:

We want them to be able to read aloud…because they have to do that in school.

OK. Good so far.

And we want them to love reading…because that’ll mean they read more, increasing their reading proficiency.

Great! We’re making progress. But…why do we care if they’re proficient readers?

Well…proficient readers will have access to lots of information from written sources, and be able to access those resources whenever they need. And that’ll make them more capable and resilient.

NOW we’re getting somewhere. All of a sudden, THAT sounds like a self-sufficient goal…something that is obviously worth while. Whereas before, they felt a bit intermediate – nice, but not the end result towards which all our effort is directed.

Let’s say after a few stabs at this process, we come up with this as the Ultimate Goal:

My ultimate goal is…

Students are resourceful enough to handle the challenges they meet in school.

Now we’re going to write that down at the top of a piece of paper (or, in my case, in a piece of flow chart software. Either way is totally fine.)

Now that we have our ultimate goal, let’s focus in on a single question:

What conditions are indispensable for this result?

In other words:

For the goal to be true, what other things have to be true?

These indispensable conditions are called Critical Success Factors. You literally cannot achieve the goal without them.

Typically, you are going to have no more than 3-5 of these.

Remember: we’re not thinking too broadly here. Our stated goal is that the students are resourceful enough to meet the challenges they’ll run into in school and life. What are the things they absolutely require in order to achieve that goal?

Let’s brainstorm.

To be resourceful enough to handle the challenges they meet in school, they’ll need:

  • To know the resources available to them
  • To be willing to seek those resources when needed
  • To be able to access those resources

This makes sense, right?

If they don’t know the resources, they can’t be resourceful;

If they can’t access the resources, they can’t be resourceful;

If they won’t access resources, they can’t be resourceful.

Let’s add those Critical Success Factors to our chart. We’ll place them below our Goal, and connect them to the goal with lines, showing the relationship.

Now that we’ve laid out some Critical Success Factors, we need to ask:

What conditions are indispensable for the achievement of our Critical Success Factors?

We’re going to repeat the process we just went through – but instead of thinking about the Goal, we’re thinking about what we need in order to achieve our Critical Success Factors.

We call these Necessary Conditions.

To recap:

We start with a Goal – the benchmark against which we measure everything in a system.

Then we figure out our Critical Success Factors – what are the indispensable elements of achieving our Goal?

Then we figure out our Necessary Conditions – what are the indispensable elements of achieving our Critical Success Factors?

After some time brainstorming (and more than a few edits), here’s what I got:

What this tree gives us is clarity into why we do what we do.

If something isn’t on the tree, it’s not moving us closer to our goal.

Likewise, if we’re neglecting the things in the tree, nothing else matters.

This works particularly well for complex issues. Below is a goal tree I created when I wanted to completely rebuild our client success systems in my marketing agency:

I ignored the “sales” branch of the tree because I was focusing in on customer service…but you can see here how every important element of what we do plays a role in moving us towards our goal (“Large number of monthly clients”).

There’s another aspect of the Goal Tree that is incredibly valuable:

The easiest place to start is with the Necessary Conditions at the bottom of the tree.

While the system can look impossible complex, the only things we need to focus on right now are the Necessary Conditions with nothing below them, i.e., the bottom layer of the tree.

If you’re starting work towards a large goal, this is how you do it:

  • Define the goal
  • Define the Critical Success Factors
  • Define the Necessary Conditions
  • Identify the lowest level of Necessary Conditions and start there

This is also a critical step towards addressing problems

Because, as we said earlier, problems exist only in relation to our goals.

More on that in the next segment – the Problem Tree.

The Reasonably Rational Thinking Process, Part 1: Why Are Some Problems So Hard To Solve?

This post is part of a series (currently in progress) on the “Reasonably Rational Thinking Process.

The sense that “I should have solved this by now” brings a sickening mix of anger, frustration, and shame.

There’s no excuse, we think.

We work so hard, for so long, desperately seeking an answer..and get nowhere.

Eventually, our frustration leads to despair, and that despair leads us to simply stop trying.

We’re now in a state of Learned Helplessness.

“For science”

Torture a dog long enough and he will eventually stop trying to escape.

Psychologists Steven Maier and Martin Seligman discovered that learned helplessness emerged in the face of insoluble problems – and became internalized, changing behavior even in completely different situations.

From the New Yorker:

Seligman and Maier first attached dogs to a harness, a kind of rubberized cloth hammock, with holes for the dogs’ legs to dangle free. As the dogs hung, their heads were kept in place by two panels, which they could easily press with their heads. At random intervals, coming between sixty and ninety seconds apart, they would receive a series of shocks to their hind feet.

Some of the dogs could control the shocks with a simple press of the head against either of the panels; for others, the head-pressing did nothing. The moment the dogs with the functional panels touched either one, the shock ended. Otherwise, it lasted for thirty seconds to begin with, and for increasingly shorter durations thereafter.

The next day, each dog was set free inside a shuttle box, a two-compartment cage separated by an adjustable barrier. Each time the lights in the box went off, half of the floor would become electrified, shocking the poor animals. But if the dog jumped over the barrier and into the next cage, the shock could be avoided. This time, each dog had the power to end its discomfort quite easily.

When Seligman and Maier analyzed the results, they found a consistent pattern. The dogs that had learned to avoid the shocks by pressing their heads against the panels on the first day were quick to jump the barrier on day two. Not a single dog failed to learn to jump quickly after the first go-around. Those that had been unable to escape the shocks, though, weren’t even trying. They were free to move, explore, and escape—but they didn’t.

Two-thirds of them were still hovering in the electrified side of the box by the end of the experiment—and for the remaining third, the average number of trials to learn to escape was just more than seven, out of the total ten. A week later, five of the six dogs that had failed to learn were still unwilling to even try: they once again failed the shuttle-box test.

The effect of the harness experiment was been both severe and lasting.

The New Yorker – 2002 https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/theory-psychology-justified-torture

The lesson I take from Seligman’s work is that we all have a tendency to retreat in the face of helplessness; if we learn we can’t affect our future, then why bother? Why do anything?

Being faced with intractable problems creates real psychic pain. Eventually, the cost/benefit analysis stops working out, and we simply roll over and take our lashing.

But why are some problems so intractable, while others seem easy to solve?

In my experience, intractable problems have two key characteristics:

  1. They don’t have a clear cause.
  2. There is no clear next action.

Cause and Effect In a Complex World

Humans are narative creatures.

In all things, we try to explain our experiences through stories.

If we’re bullied in school, we may internalize that there’s something wrong with us. Contrarily, you could take that experience and come to the conclusion that people are inherently cruel.

In eithe rstory, the effect – being bullied in school – is not up for debate. Instead, it’s the cause that’s the subject of the story.

Why did this happen to me…and what does that tell me about the world?

Reality, however, is not so simple. Rather than basic cause and effect, the world around us is governed by complex system dynamics – a interlocking web of relationships.

The systems of the body…except that this map doesn’t include the connections between the varying systems.

All of these systems interact with one another, affecting each other in unexpected ways.

The complex systems of the body – except that this map doesn’t even show the interconnections, which is where the magic happens.

What’s more, qualities possessed by none of the component parts of a system can emerge from within the interactions of those parts.

Individual ants, which are extremely limited in their capabilities, can produce fantastic acts of intelligence at the colony level. No particular ant is smart; yet the colony as a whole is brilliant.

This is known as emergence – a trait not found in any of the component parts nevertheless appears in the system as a whole.

When you several complex interlocking systems together with emergence we get a world in which the “effect” is oftentimes very far away from the “cause.”

We dance, and it rains.

I pray, I heal.

I feel these things are connected…but how?

Late Night Snacking in a Complex World

Let me give you a real-world example.

For the past 4 years or so, I’ve been meticulously weighing and measuring my food. I tracked everything down to the gram and logged that data into a weekly spreadsheet.

I did this because my natural portion control is fairly poor, and it was the only method I found that gave me control over my weight without harshly limiting my food choices.

That is, up until 2019.

Around Thanksgiving of 2019 I decided to take a break from all the food tracking.

My weight was in a good place, and I wanted to enjoy the holidays without stressing about weighing my aunt’s broccoli and cheese casserole.

The plan was to take Thanksgiving to Christmas off and start up a new plan January 1st.

As I write this, we’re getting perilously close to March – and I’ve been absolutely unable to get back on track.

I find myself eating bowls of cerel in the middle of the night, raiding my kids Halloween candy stashes, and constantly craving snacks. I haven’t been able to remember to track my food consistently, even though this was something I did reliably for years. My caloric intake is see-sawing up and down, and despite resolving to fix the problem several times, I find myself repeatedly backsliding.

So – what’s going on?

Looking for a simple cause and effect relationship here can be frustrating.

Simple cause and effect often (but not always) doesn’t fully explain what’s happening around us…and this can be extremely frustrating when we’re trying to solve a problem.
We’ll come back to this diagram (and come up with an alternative) in our next post.

Am I simply weak-willed? Seems unlikely, since I was able to follow this same diet plan for years.

Is it just access to food? Maybe, but I removed most of the offending snacks and still found myself eating random things from the kitchen.

Have I simply given up? Maybe, but I still feel like I want to eat on plan.

The reality is probably far more complicated than any of these options make it out to be.

If I believe there’s a simple cause and effect relationship here, all I should have to do to prevent the effect is remove the cause.

Remove the candy from the house, you’ll stop eating.

Strengthen your will, you’ll stop eating.

Renew your motivation, you’ll stop eating.

But if this isn’t a simple cause and effect relationship, it’s likely that the effect will still occur even when I’ve addressed what I believe to be the cause.

And that is a recipe for deep frustration.

Remember – taking action and seeing no resulting improvement leads to learned helplessness.

Just like the dogs who learned that they couldn’t control when they were shocked, constantly banging my head against a seemingly insoluble problem doesn’t just mean I don’t solve this problem; it means I start to internalize an inability to solve any problem.

Realizing that we’re just one part of an interconnected web of complex systems can leave us feeling powerless, because we can’t see a way to exert control over our situation.

In other words:

If nothing I do works, then why bother?

You Can’t Move Forward Without a Next Step

Let’s talk about procrastination.

I don’t view procrastination as an entirely bad thing – it might be that our expectation of permanent peak performance (or 3P, as I will now refuse to stop calling it) is more fantasy than reality.

But it’s certainly true that the experience of knowing what you have to do, and wanting to do it but simply feeling unable to get started is a deeply frustrating one.

We tend to attribute this kind of procrastination to laziness. But I think there’s actually a much more common culprit:

Not knowing the next step.

Many of us think we know what the next thing we need to do is – “research cancer rates,” or “send memo to boss” or “write blog post.”

These seem like relatively simple tasks.

But those “simple” tasks are actually quite complex – there’s some uncertainty built in.

Research cancer rates…how?

Send memo to boss…saying what?

Write blog post…but what’s my argument?

Every task has within it a complex series of subtasks.

Even “google my company name” has a series of steps hiding inside it that we take for granted ..

(open up your browser…oh, well, first you’ll need a computer. So get your laptop out. It’s not charged? Find the adaptor, plug it in…OK, now open up your browser. Find the URL bar. Type in “google.com“…etc.)

These sub tasks, if they’re not well understood, create the slightest sense of uncertainty.

And uncertainty leads to inaction.

Humans, in general, hate uncertainty. Acting under uncertain circumstances brings risk, and risk is, well…risky.

Better to avoid uncertainty altogether than risk looking foolish, or resource loss, or even (in some cases) death.

While it’s unlikely that you’re going to die while writing your next blog post, that tendency to avoid uncertainty remains, nestled deep within your reptilian brain. Hence, the endless ways we can find with which to avoid the task at hand.

(Ever find yourself suddenly cleaning a closet that’s been a mess for years, just so you won’t have to do the thing you’re supposed to be doing?)

Intractable problems tend to have no clear next step – whether because we can’t find the true cause (as discussed above), or because we can’t think of any way to help. Both of these situations lead to analysis paralysis – we don’t act because we’re not sure how to.

Solving Problems in a Complex World

Given that we’ve established the two characterists of intractable problems – a complexity that makes finding the root cause difficult, and no clear next step to take…

How do we go about solving them?

The best answer I’ve found is called the Logical Thinking Process.

Admittedly – not a great name.

It sounds pedantic, boring, serious – and not particularly applicable to everyday life.

If I go on to tell you that it was created in the 80’s by an Israeli physicist, it’s probably going to sound even less useful than it did before.

“I’m trying to stop snacking in the middle of the night, Dan, not send a god-damned rocket into space.”

And you’d be right.

The Logical Thinking Process, in the forms that it is currently available, is intimidating, overly complex, and not particularly useful in every day situations.

But.

What if I told you that by utilizing a dead-simple diagramming process, you could:

  • Figure out the root cause of any problem, no matter how complex;
  • Know exactly how to move forward towards solving that problem;
  • Create a clear-cut path towards accomplishing any goal, and
  • Align a team of people around solving any problem AND give them the tools they need to continue solving that problem on their own?

….Oh.

And it’s only going to take me a few minutes to teach you each step.

AND, once you know it, you will immediately be able to teach it to someone else.

Over the next few posts I’m go to show you this exact process – boiled down so that it’s instantly applicable to your life.

The key here is that we already have within us the ability to solve nearly any problem.

The key here is that we already have within us the ability to solve nearly any problem.

Part two of this series will appear next week.

All You Need Is One Idea.

All you need is one idea.

Most of us are operating with the mental model that change has to be hard.

“Nothing good comes easy,” we tell ourselves.

But that’s not really true.

In fact, transformative ideas can have instantaneous effects – and can fundamentally alter the course of our lives.

Want an example?

For my entire adult life, I’ve felt that clothes never quite fit me.

Everything was either too big or too small. Shirts that fit my length wise had necks that were too tight; anything that accommodated my (admittedly, large) neck would be so long it looked like a smock.

I was bemoaning this lack of well-fitted shirts when a friend clued me in to a simple heuristic:

A shirt will fit you well if the shoulder seam bisects the curve of your shoulder.

Here’s an illustration:

I used this rule of thumb the next time I went shopping…

And I picked out shirts that fit me very, very well.

Is that the only rule of thumb for understanding how clothes should fit? Of course not.

But did understanding this rule – this simple observation about shoulder seams – change how I understood clothing, and vastly improve the choices I made? Yes.

There’s a deeper point to be made here: This change was instantaneous. I received the idea, applied the idea, and immediately saw results.

There was no struggle, there was no back and forth, no “wrestling with the implications.”

Get the idea, apply the idea, see the results.

We’re surrounded by powerful ideas, just like this one.

Mental models, rules of thumb, systems and processes, ways of seeing the world…

That, if we could understand them, would radically change how we live our lives.

Help us make better decisions. Help us be better husbands, wives, neighbors, citizens, people.

Help us make more money.

Help us sleep more easily.

Help us live.

The problem is one of noise.

It’s a noisy world, and getting noisier all the time.

Too many things to filter though, too many things to block out.

The diamonds get tossed out with the kitchen garbage…

And we’re all too tired to go out and root around to find them.

I’m making this blog to do one thing, and one thing only:

Explore potentially life-changing ideas.

No less than that, in every post.

When I feel I can’t do that anymore?

I’ll stop writing.

No less than life-changing.

No less than what I’m capable of.

Thanks.

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