Sunday Wisdom No. 70

The future is uncertain. No matter what we do, think or believe, we have no control over it. The best we can do is learn to control what we can, i.e., our thinking, our decisions, and our reactions.

Happy Holidays!

👋 Hi, I’m Abhishek. Welcome to Sunday Wisdom—a weekly advice column on decision-making, clear thinking, creativity, and everything else that’s stressing you out in business and life. I appreciate you being here. If you are loving Sunday Wisdom, you can buy me coffee or share this newsletter with a friend.


What I’m Thinking

Chasing Uncertainty

If there’s anything that can aptly define 2020, it’s “uncertainty”. Uncertainty about how long the disease will last. Uncertainty around when the stock market would revive. Uncertainty if there’ll be better job prospects after the layoffs. Uncertainty whether things will go back to how they were, or whether we’ll have to adjust to a new normal. Uncertainty about what this new normal would be.

Uncertainty by definition is ambiguous, so it’s hard to wrap our heads around it, but it’s also something that adds fun to our lives. It is something that inventors, adventurers, and scientists strive for. As physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn explains, “Discovery comes not when something goes right, but when something is awry, a novelty that runs counter to what was expected.”

In 2021, let’s learn how to deal with uncertainty. Let’s figure out how not to avoid, but to chase uncertainty, and use it to our advantage. Onward!

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You Don’t Have to be an Expert

Do you know that being an expert can impede your ability to create? Do you know that you can become a better creator by taking advantage of your lack of expertise?

This video is for everybody who is afraid of starting—for example, writing essays, creating videos, teaching a course, or starting a business—because they think they aren’t ready.

By the end of this video I’ll convince you that you don’t have to be an expert to start something. In fact, not being an expert has its own advantages.


12 Months. 12 Ideas.

I’ve written 52 essays in 2020. Here are 12 of my favourites—one from each month. Hope you’ll enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

  1. Via Negativa: We naturally know more about what is wrong, what is bad, what is harmful, what won’t work, more than we know about what is right, what is good, what is beneficial, and what would work. Our knowledge and inherent understanding of downsides is far more robust than what we know about upsides.

  2. Lindy Effect: In non-perishable things (such as technologies and ideas) the old is expected to have longer life expectancy than the young—unlike perishable things such as human beings. If a business is eighty years old, and another one is ten years old, the older business is expected to live eight times as long as the new one.

  3. Thinking in Bets: Being asked if we are willing to bet on our beliefs makes us examine our notions in a less biased way, be more honest with ourselves about how sure we are about our beliefs, and be more open to updating and calibrating them upon finding counter-evidence. It’s a good way to avoid confirmation bias.

  4. Inner Scorecard: Maintaining an outer scorecard means being concerned by how the world sees you and thinks of you—and then acting according to that. On the other hand, inner scorecard is something you maintain for yourself. If you measure yourself by an inner scoreboard, you have a strong tendency towards self-criticism, and are able to identify areas where you need to improve. It propels your growth. Because you can win or lose by luck, but to set yourself up to high standards, you gotta go beyond luck and be better judge of yourself.

  5. Kind v Wicked Domains: In kind domains such as sports, the rules are defined, patterns repeat over and over, and feedback is instant and accurate. There’s very little or no ambiguity. If you practice long and hard, you are bound to cover almost all the scenarios. Life, on the other hand, is wicked. In life, the rules are often unclear or incomplete. There may or may not be repetitive patterns. Feedback is often delayed, inaccurate, or ambiguous.

  6. Inside View: The more closely we know about a problem, the more intuitively we come to conclusions. The more detailed a plan we make, the more confident we become. We take the inside view when we make judgments based narrowly on the details of a particular scenario that are right in front of us, and ignore past performance or similar scenarios.

  7. Desirable Difficulties: Effective teaching methods add “desirable difficulties” in the learning process by constantly asking questions, and forcing the student to think hard without giving any hint whatsoever. This process is slow and frustrating in the short term, but very effective in the long run. Excessive hint-giving doesn’t help much. In fact, it does the opposite. It boosts immediate performance, but undermines progress in the long run.

  8. Graceful Context-Switching: Getting real work done involves a negotiation between two principles—responsiveness (how quickly you can respond to things) and productivity (how much you can get done overall)—that aren’t fully compatible. That’s why the whole issue is so complex! Therefore, the best strategy is to slow down to an optimum level, and aim for minimum required efficiency, instead of maximum output.

  9. Alternative Histories: In the real world, it’s very hard to know if a decision is correct even if the outcome is positive. The positive outcome might be a random fluke, such as a coin toss. When decisions are made under uncertainty, the best judge of a decision is not its outcome, but the cost of alternatives.

  10. Compound Thinking: Compound Thinking is thinking in terms of compounding and exponential growth, instead of liner growth. Linear growth is intuitive. If I ask you to calculate 5+5+5+5+5+5+5+5+5 in your head, you can do it in a few seconds. If I ask you to calculate 5×5×5×5×5×5×5×5×5, your head will explode. Compounding does not work for the first 2–5 years, but it works for the next 20–50 years. That’s why it’s so counterintuitive.

  11. Knowing Your Competitions: Whenever there’s a finite resource, there’s competition. It’s not important to lose your sleep over that, but it would be foolish to ignore it. Knowing where you are standing is important, because that helps you find leverage, and build a specific strategy.

  12. Identifying Your Game: In a game of cricket, all the “players” are playing the same game. They all follow the same rules, and have similar sets of goals. Taking cue from that, we call everyone who invests money “investors”. When you realise how wrong that notion is, you see how vital it is to identify what game you’re playing.


👋 That’s All!

As always, please give me feedback. Did any of the stories resonate with you? Do you disagree with anything? What do you want more or less of? Any other suggestions? Please let me know in the comments.

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