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May 4th, 2018

We have an unfortunate design in our hardware. When faced with a difficult question that is worded in a deceptively simple way, we don’t answer it. Instead, we create a very similar sounding question that is not only simply worded but also a simple question.

Compare these two questions:




Is it the best solution?


Do I like the solution?



These are NOT the same thing.

The first question is a difficult one. It requires breaking it down into many different questions: What are the metrics that we will measure success of the solution with? What sort of actions do we need to take to get any kind of register on these metrics? Even when all these questions are formed, they still aren’t answered. That takes testing. It takes action. That takes time and work. So answering this question is no simple matter. Certainly not something that can be done quickly.

The second question is easy. It glosses over all the deceptive complexity of the first question and seems like the same question. This requires less work for the brain. We simply consider the solution and then see how we feel.




This weird substitution crops up in our thinking in all sorts of ways and places.

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting little blurb a few years ago about the phrase “I don’t have time.”

The Journal instructed substituting “I don’t have time” with “It’s not a priority.” And see how you feel. Here’s a couple good examples: “I don’t have time to workout” vs. “My health is not a priority” and… “I don’t have time” vs. “Spending time with my child is not a priority”. Saying one of these is waaay more difficult, even painful. Just in the same way that “Is it the best solution?” is a much more difficult question to answer.


Another area of our thinking where this kind of substitution occurs is on a marco level. Whenever something akin to the phrase ‘victim of circumstance’ or ‘yea, but’ comes into our thinking or our speech, we need to tread carefully and examine what’s going on.

Is someone overweight because of the circumstance? Because of the circumstance of their genes? Because the financial circumstance doesn’t permit for better food and gym memberships? Because the circumstance of schedule doesn’t permit time? All of these combined, feel, compelling.

We are very adept at coming up with more and more reasons to support the conclusion that we are a ‘victim of circumstance’

Think of all the times when a friend is venting about an issue and in response to every solution you try to present, there is a response that starts with “yea, BUT . . . blah blah blah

All of these substitutions occur because of the same thing: It’s simpler and easier.

To answer the easier question.

To phrase things in a way that leaves us blameless.

To phrase things in a way that blames things that are out of our control.

How much better would life be if we consistently opted to do the good, hard work?

Hard questions require slowing down and remembering that they can be worded in deceivingly simple ways.

Everyone has the same amount of time, so if someone else can prioritize fun things like family and curiosity, so can you – it just requires an honest look at that priority list, some innovative thinking and action.


So are you a victim of circumstance?

Or is that an easier, simplified question? Perhaps the better question is. . .


Am I a victim of my own thinking?

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Podcast Ep. 19: The Right Question

Tinkered Thinking

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