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May 7th, 2019
These two concepts are at odds with one another. One of these concepts is an honest assessment of how far we have come whereas the other is often an imagined certainty about the future. Progress is that honest assessment, however it too is mapped forward into the future, as in, the progress we hope to make. It is an active verb that we push forward with into the future.
We do so presumably with plans, however a plan is a cold and static noun. And because of that, plans should be kept relatively short so that we can quickly gain any result and feedback generated by acting on such a plan and forgo the risk of marching off in unproductive directions for long periods of time simply in the name of the plan.
The longer we spend marching off in an unproductive direction, and the more we invest in a sunk cost of such a direction, the longer it takes to make a useful pivot away from such an ineffective plan. This pivot also becomes less likely as the cognitive fallacy of sunk-cost accumulates in the mind.
Plans are somewhat confused with instructions. They appear extremely similar in their make up. Both are a blueprint for some achievable end. The difference of course is that instructions are tried and true ways of a achieving whatever ends they instruct. Plans, on the other hand are educated guesses at best. The similarity between these two is unfortunate because people can easily fall into a false sense of security about the efficacy of a plan in the same way we can often rightfully rely on instructions. Any plan, however, is far from tried and true.
Progress, as an active verb that describes the future we aim to create, requires a strategy that is equally active and agile.
Our strategy is ultimately and ideally an arsenal of mental models and evolving cognitive frameworks that should change based on newly acquired information. Once an understanding of this information is integrated into these models and frameworks, that combined strategy then outputs a plan. The smaller and more concrete the better.
If however our plans are large, vague and reach far into the future, there is most likely gross weaknesses within our cognitive framework and the mental models that it employs.
This lack of robustness and antifragility within our cognitive framework leaves us vulnerable to many cognitive mistakes, namely in this case, the sunk-cost fallacy wherein we follow a plan irrespective of new information that indicates that abandoning the plan would be a better plan. In such a case our strategy lacks the ability to cut emotional ties to such plan and print out a new plan that successfully incorporates new information. The mental skill here is the ability to continually question one’s current efforts and size them up against the core aims that we seek to achieve. If they cease to match, than we need to slip such anchors and sail in new directions.
Progress and the perseverance to pursue such progress require a strategy that can evolve plans quickly. An absolute necessity of taking action on quickly evolving plans benefits both from our ability to emotionally distance our self from current lines of action, but also from shorter plans. The shorter the plan, the quicker it can be carried out and the faster we can potentially receive more information to update our strategy and pivot –even if only slightly- towards a tighter range in which direction we sense our goal may lie.
Progress, in retrospect looks like a set of instructions. The narrative is always clear and seems obvious after the fact, but progress while looking forward has none of this clarity nor certainty. Looking forward, progress is a probability cloud that we are constantly seeking to shrink as we take action and integrate information. The smaller and tighter our plans that we formulate to carry out this process, the quicker and more efficiently we shrink that probability cloud of the future where our goals may exist. Ultimately, if our goal is possible and we can pivot intelligently towards it, or stumble with luck on to it, that probability cloud vanishes as the future becomes the present where our goal emerges.
This episode references Episode 37: The Instructions are Always Written Afterwards and Episode 72: Persevere vs. Pivot