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Limitations of My Own Thinking

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I sometimes make recommendations, or at least recount a story that has “actionable insights”. Anytime this happens, I start tripping over myself with warnings and qualifying statements.

Here’s what would happen:

  • I would make a recommendation (“start a side project to help get a better job”).

  • I would immediately follow it with a paragraph of qualifying statements. (“It’s not the side project itself that gets you the job, it’s the skills that you get while pursuing it. Well, not even the skills, but the “stick-to-itiveness” that you gain. But even if you’re naturally tenacious, you have to telegraph that to a potential employer, so really the side project is a way of showing traits that you already have.  It helps you gain traits you might not have too. And helps you showcase both.” and on and on and on.)

That’s a rough way to write, and makes it hard to get a coherent thought down. So, now, whenever I make an assertion and want to qualify my statements, I’ll just link here. Every time I link to this page, hear my voice in your head saying:

“Please be aware that I’m only human and have limited knowledge. Important differences are invisible to both of us. These differences may cause your experience to differ wildly from mine”

On the limitation of my knowledge #

We’re all suspicious of people who say but do not do. We’re also eager to hear from people that do, so we can learn from them and improve our own situation.

We should be wary of people who have done great things and then talk about it. We (humans) are unable to recall events and discern cause-and-effect with skill or accuracy.

When imparting advice, the advice giver andthe audience face three dangers:

  • Modify the advice or story to make yourself look better.  This modification usually is not intentional.

  • Mistaking the relationship between what happened and what was observed.   Have you noticed that “plain facts” get interpreted in opposite ways? 

  • Misattribute cause and effect.  “I started calling customers and changing the marketing to use the words and phrases they used,  and our company grew 20% month over month!” Possible, but keep in mind that the number of people who drowned by falling into pools correlates with the number of films featuring Nicolas Cage. 

Even with the best of intentions, it is impossible to view oneself and the events that ones has experienced with perfect clarity. I like to think well of myself, so with enough time (or wine) I’ll revise past events to make myself look better.  This revision is to better protect my ego, and is insideous. I do this, and chances are good that you do too. 

The change is subtle. Sometimes I’ll make a chance good thing seem a little more like something I chose. Or I’ll “misremember” my reaction to some bad thing as less immature and selfish than it really was. 

This “misremembering” isn’t the end of the world. It just taints my ability to make generalizations and recommendations to other people. I’m not going to stop making recommendations.  I am just leaving it up to you to be appropriately apprehensive and suspicious of everything that I write. 

Conclusion #

Don’t trust most of what most people say.

If you want a good starting point for trusting some people and distrusting others, I cannot recommend Antifragile highly enough. Go read it.