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September 25th, 2019

Make a plan, but don’t plan the results.


It might be helpful to point out something about plans that doesn’t ever get mentioned: Plans are about learning.


Plans are experiments, they are based on hypotheses about reality.  If I do this than A might happen.


Compare it to something like gravity and suddenly the wishy-washy nature of plans comes into focus.  Nobody plans on being sucked towards the earth tomorrow.  We count on it.  We expect it.  So much so that we never think about it.  Only when it’s somehow mitigated by something like swimming or floating around in the International Space Station do we give gravity some thought.  Neither Plans nor their results deserve any of the reliable expectation that we ascribe to gravity.  And yet we often do this, and become as disappointed and upset as if we were to walk into a new room and suddenly fall to the ceiling and get stuck there with 10 times the force of regular gravity. 


Just imagine how aggravating that would be.  Lying there, on the ceiling, stuck, sighing, thinking “not again..”


We have this experience – at least emotionally – all the time.  Something doesn’t go our way, we roll our eyes, frustrated: not again….



Why do we pin expectation to our plans in this way?


It might have something to do with the unsettling nature of the future.  For the time being it’s fairly unpredictable, and the unknown makes us nervous and scared.  For good reason: the unknown can be physically dangerous.  We seem hardwired to default towards fear of the unknown.  And perhaps this was some sort of evolutionary adaptation that kept us safe in the past when things were more dangerous.


Regardless of the origin or cause, we’re gifted with an unproductive tendency to try and speak about the future in terms of certainty.


When we take this course of action, I expect this will be the outcome.


This is indicative of a terrible perspective because it sets itself up for disappointment, which is an entirely new problem that we’ll have to deal with.


Another reason that people use this language though, is because it sounds impressive.  It’s a social hack that some people use for short term gain, and it works because most people are petrified of the unknown, so someone who declares they can create the opposite, by making the future known, will gain a lot of short-term clout. 


Someone who can speak about the future in certain terms and be correct is going to be a very rare and a very valuable human being.  


But the reason this sort of person is going to be rare is because the way to develop an exceptionally robust model of the world – one that is strong enough to make accurate predictions – is going to come about that model through a strategy that requires the exact opposite:  fast, iterative experimentation with little to no emotional attachment to what the results might be. 


Such a person can carry out more experiments for at least one simple reason: with no emotional attachment to some sort of desired results, they get to skip the whole disappointment and frustration thing.  They fast-track straight to the next experiment, and while other people are busy being down in the dumps beating themselves up for failure, this person is busy learning more and gaining an upper hand on how the world works.



This episode relies on episode 514: Falsify


Part II of this episode, A Game of Tennis, is now available tomorrow.

Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Podcast Ep. 528: Results Part I: Expectation

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