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The Scipionic Circle 94: Optimal Decision-Making, The Power of Saying "I Don’t Know", and Identifying Root Causes of Problems
"Criticizing others is easier than coming to know yourself." — Bruce Lee
Welcome to another issue of The Scipionic Circle — I hope you find something of value.
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Food for Thought
I. Navigating Behavioral Defaults: Mastering the Brain's Default Settings for Optimal Decision-Making
"While there are many such instincts, four stand out to me as the most prominent, the most distinctive, and the most dangerous. These behaviors represent something akin to our brain’s default or factory settings. They’re behavioral programs written into our DNA by natural selection that our brains will automatically execute when triggered unless we stop and take the time to think. They have many names, but for the purposes of this book, let’s call them the emotion default, the ego default, the social default, and the inertia default.
"Here’s how each essentially functions:
"1. The emotion default: we tend to respond to feelings rather than reasons and facts.
"2. The ego default: we tend to react to anything that threatens our sense of self-worth or our position in a group hierarchy.
"3. The social default: we tend to conform to the norms of our larger social group.
"4. The inertia default: we’re habit forming and comfort seeking. We tend to resist change, and to prefer ideas, processes, and environments that are familiar.
"There are no hard edges between defaults; they often bleed into one another. Each on their own is enough to cause unforced errors, but when they act together, things quickly go from bad to worse.
"People who master their defaults get the best real-world results. It’s not that they don’t have a temper or an ego, they just know how to control both rather than be controlled by them. With the ability to think clearly in ordinary moments today, they consistently put themselves in a good position for tomorrow." — From Clear Thinking: Turning Ordinary Moments into Extraordinary Results by Shane Parrish.
II. The Power of Saying "I Don’t Know": Mastering Self-Knowledge for Informed Decision-Making
"Self-knowledge is about knowing your own strengths and weaknesses. You must know what you can do and what you can’t; your powers and limitations, your strengths and vulnerabilities, what’s in your control and what isn’t. You know what you know, and what you don’t know. And you know, moreover, that you have cognitive blind spots—that there are things you don’t know, and you don’t know you don’t know them—what Donald Rumsfeld famously called 'unknown unknowns.'
"If you want to better understand your level of self-knowledge, ask yourself how many times a day you utter the phrase 'I don’t know.' If you never say, 'I don’t know,' you’re probably dismissing things that surprise you or explaining away outcomes instead of understanding them.
"Understanding what you do and don’t know is the key to playing games you can win.
"I witnessed a powerful display of self-knowledge recently, at a group dinner with a very successful friend who’d made a fortune in real estate. A savvy investor at the dinner pitched him on a company he was taking private. The idea was one of the most compelling I had heard in years.
"After hearing out the pitch, my friend paused for a second, took a sip of water, and said, 'I’m not interested in investing.' The entire table sat in silence, wondering what we had missed. Someone finally broke the silence by asking him why he was passing.
"'I don’t know anything about that space,' he said. 'I like to stick to what I know.'
"As we left the restaurant, the conversation continued. He admitted that the pitch sounded great, he trusted the person, and thought investors would make a lot of money on the deal. (They did.) Then he told me, 'The key to successful investing is to know what you know and stick to it.'
"My friend knew real estate well, and he knew if he played in that space and was patient, he couldn’t help but be successful." — From Clear Thinking: Turning Ordinary Moments into Extraordinary Results by Shane Parrish.
III. Beyond Band-Aids: Identifying and Addressing Root Causes for Lasting Solutions
"A handy tool for identifying the root cause of a problem is to ask yourself, 'What would have to be true for this problem not to exist in the first place?' Here’s another example of this tool put to use:
"The ASPCA is one of the largest animal-welfare groups in the United States. It estimates that more than 3 million dogs enter shelters each year and are put up for adoption. Roughly 1.4 million of them are successfully adopted, but that leaves more than 1 million unadopted dogs in the US each year.
"There are only so many people willing to adopt a pet, and only so many pets a given family can handle, so the question facing most shelters is, 'How can we get more people to adopt?' But answering that question doesn’t make any progress toward a long-term solution.
"Test whether you’re addressing the root cause of a problem, rather than merely treating a symptom, by asking yourself whether it will stand the test of time. Will this solution fix the problem permanently, or will the problem return in the future? If it seems like the latter, then chances are you’re only treating a symptom.
"Short-term solutions might make sense in the moment, but they never win in the long term. You feel like you’re moving forward when you’re actually just going in circles. People gravitate toward them because finding a short-term fix signals to others that they’re doing something. That’s the social default at work. It fools people into mistaking action for progress, the loudest voice for the right one, and confidence for competence. Time eventually reveals short-term solutions to be Band-Aids that cover deeper problems. Don’t be fooled!
"You can put your energy into short-term solutions or long-term solutions but not both. Any energy that’s channeled toward short-term solutions depletes energy that could be put into finding a long-term fix. Sometimes short-term solutions are necessary to create space for long-term solutions. Just make sure you’re not putting out flames in the present that will reignite in the future. When the same problem returns again and again, people end up exhausted and discouraged because they never seem to make real progress. Extinguish the fire today so it can’t burn you tomorrow.
"These principles, safeguards, and tips will keep you from jumping at the social default’s whim." — From Clear Thinking: Turning Ordinary Moments into Extraordinary Results by Shane Parrish.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Aristotle on cultivating virtue:
"Strengths of character result from habit. . . . We acquire them just as we acquire skills . . . we become builders, for instance, by building, and we become harpists by playing the harp. So too we become just by doing just actions, temperate by doing temperate actions, brave by doing brave actions."
II. Bruce Lee on self-reflection:
"Criticizing others is easier than coming to know yourself."
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Thank you for reading,