Better Thinking & Incentives: Lessons From Shakespeare - Deepstash
Gaining wisdom from the past

Life can feel overwhelming. With so many new technologies and ways of doing things, knowing what to pay attention to can be difficult.

In How to Think Like Shakespeare, professor Scott Newstok writes about what people of the past have already learned about better thinking and applying incentives. The main lesson is that even new problems are tied to wisdom and insight from ideas that are hundreds of years old.

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We get better at thinking when we put our knowledge into practice. Doing and thinking work together. You learn something, and then you use that information to do something. The result is that you learn something new. It is a powerful feedback loop.

Better thinking takes strength. You have to be able to switch off to the noise around you and walk away from distractions. You also need strength to face the results and find better ways to do something.

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The wrong incentives can reduce our motivation to reach a goal.

In the American education system, the incentive is passing tests. That will lead to higher education and being validated as a person who knows things. But the continual assessment pressure is wasting precious classroom hours because we don't know what we will need to know in the future. Shakespeare's 'useless' Latin drills prepared him for a job that didn't exist yet.

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  • In many organisations, the opportunities for reward and compensation is only available by climbing higher. Thus, people are incentivised to get into management, even if they don't really want to. By not incentivising alternative paths, companies end up losing great employees.
  • Another problem is that compensation is tied to visibility or volume of output, and not quality. We want thinkers, but we don't give anyone the time to think.

We need incentives to explore ideas that respond to the future.

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