These seven moral rules – love your family, help your group, return favors, be brave, defer to authority, be fair, and respect others’ property – appear to be universal across cultures.
The Shirky Principle: “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution”
Taylor Pearson really has become a fine essayist. This one on procrastination was packed with wisdom:
“Whenever you feel that some situation or some person is ruining your life, it is actually you who are ruining your life… feeling like a victim is a perfectly disastrous way to go through life. If you just take the attitude that however bad it is in any way, it’s always your fault and you just fix it as best you canâ – the so-called “iron prescription” – I think that really works.” Charlie Munger
In his letter to shareholders back in 2016, Jeff Bezos gave the best advice I’ve ever heard on how to stop procrastinating:
“Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.”
What Bezos is saying is that you should think like a C student. When you’re about 70% sure, you take a guess and see what happens.
Colin Powell has a similar rule for how to stop procrastinating. You should make a decision when you have between 40% and 70% of the possible information. He believes that with less than that, you are bound to make a wrong decision.
However, if you keep looking for information beyond 70%, then by the time you make the decision, it will be so late that you will have missed the opportunity.
…Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired…Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.
…Courage is the Cure for Procrastination
In his account of an expedition into the Himalayas in the 1930’s, explorer William Hutchison Murray put it this way:
“… but when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money — booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.”
William Hutchinson Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (1951)
The mathematician and economist Eric Weinstein, has a category of individual he defines as a “high agency person”. As Eric would elaborate on Tim Ferriss’ podcast:
“When you’re told that something is impossible, is that the end of the conversation, or does that start a second dialogue in your mind, how to get around whoever it is that’s just told you that you can’t do something? So, how am I going to get past this bouncer who told me that I can’t come into this nightclub? How am I going to start a business when my credit is terrible and I have no experience?”
It was Steve Jobs who once said that, “Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”
Once you learn this, he said, you’ll never be the same again.
People have spoken of Jobs’ “reality distortion field” and this is really what it was. He believed more in his own agency – his own power to change and affect things – than he did in conventional wisdom or other people”s opinions.
But this idea of agency is a controversial one today. Most of discourse is marked with shibboleths that reveal our doubts about agency. We speak of privileges and systemic biases. We talk of our problems as if they are intractable, overwhelming and malevolently created. Even on the extreme right, there is an obsession with biological differences between sexes and races, about whether one gender or another is naturally better at this or that. Again, these are simply averages that have nothing to do with individuals. Our focus on it all, from either side, is a way of subtly erasing agency. We emphasise where we are disempowered rather than opportunities for empowerment.
The line from Hannibal when he was told that crossing the Alps was impossible: Aut inveniam viam aut faciam. I shall either find a way or make one.
This is what high agency individuals do. This is how they respond to bad odds, to big doubts, or frustrating situations.
“In my office, on a wall converted to a massive whiteboard, I’ve written “Learn, Build, Share, Repeat” in large letters. I think of this as both a mission and as an operating manual.
“Learn” means always keep pushing to understand what you don’t already know, because as Isaac Asimov wrote, past glories are poor feeding. The moment you feel like you’ve won, or that you’ve got it all figured out, you are dead.
“Build” is a forcing function. Words like “write,” “create,” or “teach” work here as well. If you force yourself to transform what you’ve learned into something that is your own, then you’ve really learned. You’ve also made something that can serve others.
“Share” means connection. Sharing openly and transparently creates a feedback loop which accelerates learning and improves whatever it is you are building. It also creates a community of like-minded people with similar values and curiosities.
“Repeat” emphasizes that this is a game which is never complete. This isn’t about accomplishments, goals, or endpoints. It is a romance with the process itself.
In The Death of Expertise, ” Tom Nichols shows us why the surge in narcissistic and intellectual egalitarianism has crippled informed debates:
“All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism.”
In his under-appreciated classic “The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else“, Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto argues that the legal structure of property and property rights is a major determinant of the economic success of a country. “Every developed nation in the world at one time went through the transformation from predominantly informal, extralegal ownership to a formal, unified legal property system [and this] allowed people everywhere to leverage property into wealth.”
Trillions of dollars of economic value are trapped in informal assets that cannot, for example, be leveraged to secure loans or otherwise bootstrap wealth creation.
Imagine if you had an inexpensive, fraud-proof way to register and regulate these assets? Could this finally be the breakthrough use of blockchain?
Why don’t the police use a public Kanban board to show the progress of criminal cases through the system?
Their workrate and priorities could be assessed openly. It would be great for transparency. Victims and journalists and other interested parties could track cases without needing to call the police.
This occurred to me after reading about some dreadful case in Sweden where a child rape victim’s case had not been processed after a year, and her attackers were still roaming about in the community as they all waited for the police to investigate. Journalists were calling the police for updates. The lack of transparency combined with public ignorance about both the scale of certain crimes and polices under resourcing all contributed to the situation.
Making the police workload publicly visible could really help focus resourcing discussions.