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Making our decisions

For trivial matters, it’s efficient and perhaps useful to simply follow a crowd or whatever leader we’ve chosen.

But when it matters, we need to make (and own) our own decisions.

To do that effectively, consider:

  • Do the reading
  • Show your work
  • Avoid voices with a long track record of being wrong
  • Ask, “and then what happens?”
  • Ask, “how would that work?”
  • Ignore people who make a living saying stupid things to attract attention
  • Follow a path you’re eager and happy to take responsibility for
  • Be prepared to change your mind when new data arrives
  • Think hard about who profits and why they want you to believe something
  • Consider the long-term impact of short-term thinking

None of these steps are easy. This could be why we so often outsource them to someone else.

“The market has spoken”

Why would someone buy a share of stock for $945?

One reason might be that they think they can sell it tomorrow for $950.

A more common reason is that someone bought it an hour ago for $940.

Of course, this applies to more than equities. Why buy a Birkin bag for more than $25,000? Because someone else did.

The only thing worse than losing an auction by a few dollars is winning one by a lot.

All of this makes sense until it doesn’t. The “market” is very smart about any given moment in time, but not always particularly smart about the future.

Our areas of expertise

Most of all, we’re experts in our own narrative, our feelings, our lived experience. No one has had that but us, and while it might be unexamined or instinctive, we’re the experts. Experts in who we associate with and what we choose to believe.

And many of us are experts in what we do all day. Our craft and our profession. We’ve been doing it for a long time.

Suddenly, as a spiral of media, world events and science all come together, we’re confronted with a range of things we might not be experts in. Statistics, long-term thinking, epidemiology, semiotics, constitutional law, technology, the scientific method, history and environmental science.

One option is to get smart about each of these things, just as we’ve learned other important skills in the past. That requires the energy to pay attention and the humility to encounter new ideas and realize that we’re not an expert yet.

Another is to simply pretend we’re experts, conflating our (well-earned) feelings with actual expertise.

And the third is to simply shrug and ignore it all.

It’s never been easier to learn what we need to learn. And it’s never been more urgent that we do so.

Two kinds of useful help

The first kind, the common kind, is when someone helps you with advice or labor to accomplish what you’ve already set out to do.

The second kind, more rare and more useful, is when someone helps you realize that your original plan wasn’t as good as you thought it was, and helps you come up with a better one.

Which kind are you looking for?

Yelling “fire”

With the possible exception of hockey games, there have been few places in our modern lives where public interactions are supposed to be coarse. If (back when we could, and soon when we can again) you go to the theater, a museum, the mall, a restaurant, the library, school, the supermarket, the park, or yes, even to a movie theater, the management does not tolerate or encourage acting like a jerk.

And then social media arrived.

Social media is a place where the business model depends on some percentage of the crowd acting in unpleasant ways. It draws a crowd. And crowds generate profit.

We’ve created a new default, a default where it’s somehow defensible to be a selfish, short-sighted, anonymous troll. At scale.

Civility has always been enforced by culture, and for the last hundred years, amplified by commerce. We shouldn’t accept anything less than kindness, even if the stock price is at stake. DMS has a great point about the algorithm. Once you start prioritizing some voices, you become responsible for the tone and noise and disconnection (or possibility, connection and peace of mind) you’ve caused.

The answer imperative

“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon…”

We’re standing on one foot, impatiently waiting for the shortcut, the method, the guarantee. Skip the preamble and the analysis–what’s your take? Don’t talk to me about genre and method and history. No time for that. What are we supposed to do right now?

Perhaps the reason we’re struggling is that along the way, we forgot to focus on the questions instead. More answers are only going to insulate us from the questions we actually need to be focusing on.

The win-win fallacy

There are some problems where a useful solution is a win for everyone.

But not many. Certainly not the problems that have been around for a while. If there were a win win solution, someone would have probably found it already.

For significant problems, someone is going to lose in the short run. Leadership is not the act of making everyone happy. It’s the ability to show up and help us get to a place where, on balance, more of us are glad to be.

If you can’t find a win-win, it might be time to find a win-lose where the most people with something at stake end up benefitting. Often, that means that entrenched interests and those that have traditionally come first don’t do as well in the short run.

“Because it’s more convenient”

This is a terrible reason to do something that makes things a little worse for other people.

And a common one, of course.

Much of the time, we’re willing to go out of our way to do work we’re proud of. Unless it would be inconvenient to do so.

One of the reasons our best work is important is that it’s also inconvenient.

Alas, convenience beats just about everything.

[But then, as some people who actually care do inconvenient things, those things become normal, which, amazingly, makes them more convenient for everyone else.]

The traffic metaphors

Your mileage may vary.

Speeding up to get to a red light faster just wastes energy.

Honking doesn’t make traffic go away.

Doesn’t matter how fancy your car is, it’s not worth very much if they close the road.

One of the worst ways to get to where you’re going is to always drive in the fastest moving lane and avoid any toll roads. The flow of traffic isn’t always going where you want to go.

Following another car will eventually get you lost.

If you don’t stop to refuel, you’re going to get stranded.

Giving someone a chance, or the right of way, and letting them into traffic doesn’t really slow you down that much.

In our culture, we give way too many resources to cars and their efficiency and not enough to pedestrians and the opportunities that they deserve.

The map is not the territory, but a map is a good thing to have.

Acceleration is overrated. Persistence, good directions and a reliable vehicle almost always beat horsepower.

Words that matter

Any word that’s really important is also confusing. Words like trust, love, friend, fair, honest, lead, connect, authentic, justice, dignity–they have dozens of different meanings.

Perhaps that’s because they’re important.

It’s worth spending a moment to understand what we mean when we say something that might mean something else.