On being thoughtful
Focusing on the things that you can control
The Master does his job and then stops. He understands that the universe is forever out of control, and that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao.
- The Tao Te Ching
I've always thought that the highest compliment someone could pay is to call me "thoughtful." To deeply consider a problem and turn a well-reasoned conclusion into speech or action is incredibly satisfying. To have others recognize this quality inside me is incredibly validating.
Being thoughtful does not mean being right.
As President Bartlett tells his staff in the first episode of The West Wing, it's important to avoid the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc. While it's tempting to believe that we exercise control over the outcomes we experience in life, the actions we take are only a tiny part of the vast, unpredictable web of events that make up our reality. When we over-emphasize the influence of our own actions on these events, we fall victim to outcome bias, and risk throwing away good practices followed by bad outcomes, or (worse!) embracing bad practices followed by good ones.
In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
Determining causality amid the enormous complexity of reality is impossible and, in this sense, the only thing that any of us can hope to be is thoughtful in our actions. This means taking time to examine how each potential course aligns with our goals, exploring the trade offs from multiple angles, and carefully studying our performance at each step. As decision makers, the process by which we gather our thoughts and convert them into action is our most important asset, and learning to evaluate and improve it over time is our most important task.
Those who learn to do this independently of the final result build resilient systems that evolve at every step, regardless of outcome, to become capable of accomplishing great things. Those who are only driven by outcomes will find themselves frustrated as they grapple with a chaotic world that is outside their control.
Amid life’s unpredictable currents, the only standard we can really hope to meet is to be thoughtful.
Have a great weekend!