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Problem Solving

108 STASHED IDEAS

These combine elements of evaluation and norm judgement to identify intentional violations of norms.

A wrongness judgement differs from a norm judgement in that wrongness is an entirely moral trait.

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Problem Solving

Blame judgements combine evaluations, norm judgments and wrongness judgements.

This judgement is carried out quickly. Blame is a social tool. It can also help us regulate our moral behaviour in the future.

Norm judgements are limited to actions. We decide if some activity or thing is allowed, permissible, prohibited, or otherwise acceptable.

This can be applied before an action is taken. It often invokes abstract ideas of virtue and value.

These are simple evaluations we make to judge whether something is good, bad, positive, or negative.

We do this with everything, including situations like evaluating writing.

Moral psychology

Moral psychology is the study of how we process moral ideas, how we become moral beings, and how our brains handle moral issues. We can use a four-category framework to understand how people make moral judgements. These are: Evaluations, Norm judgements, Wrongness judgements and Blame judgements.

It takes less than two seconds of seeing an action with a moral dimension to make a basic judgement on whether it was good or bad, morally wrong or not, and who to blame for it. Some of these quick decisions will be wrong because we rely on preexisting biases and insufficient information. The four-category framework can help us understand that moral situations can be viewed from different perspectives. Holding opposing views on an issue can be natural.

Mortimer Adler

"The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks."

The areas where you are struggling to explain the points in simple terms or forget something important are where you have some gaps in your understanding.

Now that you know your gaps, go back to the source material. Look up definitions. Augment with other sources. When you can say something in multiple ways using different words, you really understand the subject.

The Feynman Technique can also be used for a different way of thinking that allows you to break ideas apart and reconstruct them.

When you have a conversation, and the other person uses words or relationships that you are not familiar with, ask them to explain to you as if you're a child. Doing this will supercharge both of your learning.

Many of the errors that people make come because they don't know they're missing the information they need.

Unless someone can demonstrate a truth to you with real experiments, there's no point in considering their knowledge.

  • Take out a blank sheet of paper.
  • Write the name of the subject as your heading.
  • Then write down everything you know about the subject as if you were teaching it to a child. Try and explain as simply as possible.

The problem is not what is possible - it's what's probable, what is happening. It's impossible that everything that is possible is happening.

You can also not judge the probability of something happening if it has already happened. You have to run an experiment forward to mean anything.

Decide whether someone else really knows their stuff or is just copying others.

Ask them naive but relevant questions. When you apply your knowledge of the Feynman Technique, you know they should be able to explain it to you in simple terms and must be able to make educated analogies.

When you have written down notes containing simple explanations, organize them in a narrative that you can tell from start to finish.

If the explanation is not clear, identify your gaps, look up definitions, augment with other sources, then organize and simplify again. You may end up with a binder full of pages that will remind you just how much you do retain.

Michel de Montaigne said, "What good does it do us to have our belly full of meat if it is not digested, if it is not transformed into us, if it does not nourish and support us?"

We learn from books, but also from people we talk to, and the various positions, ideas, and opinions we are exposed to. We have to know how to sort through the relevant information and discard what is not worth learning.

The last step is to run it past someone who knows a little of the subject. You can read what you've written or present the material like a lecture. Ask your friends for a few minutes over dinner. The idea is to attempt to transmit the material to at least one person who is not that knowledgeable about it.

The questions you get and the feedback you receive can be used to develop your understanding further.

There is a difference between just knowing the name of something and knowing something. We know something when we are able to use that knowledge broadly.

We can learn to know something by taking it apart and seeing how each part works.

The technique is based on the method Richard Feynman originally used.

There are four steps to the Feynman Technique:

  1. Pretend to teach a concept you want to learn about to a child.
  2. Identify gaps in your explanation. Fill the gaps by going back to the source material.
  3. Organize and simplify
  4. Transmit.
The Feynman Learning Technique

The Feynman Learning Technique is a way to supercharge your learning.

Learning doesn't happen from browsing through a book or remembering enough to pass an exam. We learn information when we can explain it and use it in several situations. The Feynman Learning Technique is a simple way to help us learn anything.

When we investigate if something is true or not, new evidence and methods of experimentation should show a stronger effect, not a weaker one.

We must refine the method for getting at the real truth. If re-tests get weaker and weaker effects, it's likely not true to the magnitude we hoped for.

Very few ideas are absolutely true. You want to get as close to the truth as you can with the available information.

  • Use "grey thinking". It is the ability to put things on a gradient from "probably true" to "probably false".
  • Bayesian updating. Start with priori odds (knowledge based on previous experience), and update the odds based on what you learn thereafter.
GREG MCKEOWN

“The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves.”

  • The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better. It means asking yourself frequently, “Am I investing in the right activities?”
  • The Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in; we have to deal with trade-offs and make tough decisions.
  • The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. It is the path to being in control of our own choices.
  • When assessing an option, think about the one most important criterion for that decision, and then give the option a score between 0 and 100.
  • If you rate it any lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it.

“If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”

  • Individual choice: We can choose how to spend our energy and time.
  • The prevalence of noise: Almost everything is noise, and a very few things are exceptionally valuable.
  • The reality of trade-offs: We can’t have it all or do it all.
Greg McKeown

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done."

  • The beliefs we must conquer: “I have to,” “It’s all important,” and “I can do both.”
  • The beliefs to replace them with: “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and “I can do anything but not everything.”
  • Write down the opportunity.
  • Write down a list of three “minimum criteria” the options would need to “pass” in order to be considered.
  • Write down a list of three ideal or “extreme criteria” the options would need to “pass” in order to be considered. If the opportunity doesn’t pass the first set of criteria, the answer is obviously no. But if it also doesn’t pass two of your three extreme criteria, the answer is still no.
Essentialism

It is the organized, systematic approach for determining what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.

  • Having a clarity of purpose enables us to succeed in our endeavor.
  • When we have success, we gain a reputation as a “go-to” person and we are presented with increased options and opportunities.
  • Having many options and opportunities translates into demands upon our time and energy and leads to diffused efforts.
  • We become distracted from what would otherwise be our highest level of contribution. The effect of our success has been to undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.
  • The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s.
  • It was singular, it meant the very first or prior thing and stayed singular for the next five hundred years.
  • Only in the 1900s we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.

When we don’t choose where to put our focus, energy and time deliberately, other people (managers, colleagues, family members etc.) will choose for us and in time, we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.

Creativity is exciting

It triggers some degree of surprise or excitement within us and gives us a new way of seeing things that we could not see before.

However, history and science teach us that the process of creativity is actually completely boring. And that is great news for us.

Buy low, sell high. Look for opportunities that are more valuable than most people believe they are, refurbish it and change it into something of a higher value that people can enjoy and value.

Personal computers were seen as impractical and pricey until Bill Gates created software that was simple enough for everyone.

The idea that creativity happens due to a moment of inspiration is false. Inspiration happens when you put in the time to be creative.

  • Mozart and Beethoven each composed over 600 pieces of music. Their contemporaries composed less than 100.
  • Picasso created more than 50,000 pieces of art. Most other professional artists produce a few hundred.
  • Nobel prize winners produce nearly twice as much work compared to their colleagues.
  • People like Beethoven or Picasso slogged away at their craft for decades to end up with a handful of brilliant pieces.

Combining novelty and value requires a lot of trial and error. It requires feedback. It requires understanding your audience and their values. It requires shaping and perfecting your craft over many years. For every great idea, there are hundreds of failed ideas.

And that is why creativity can get boring. It appears that creativity is really a skill you can practice and get better at.

Creativity isn't an invention; it's reinvention.


  • The process of creativity starts with immersing yourself in the domain you're interested in. You first have to get good enough to at least emulate it. Then try and better it. 
  • Find people who you want to emulate and start emulating them. Then do more of your own.


This foundation provides a well of knowledge and experience that can be remixed to generate new creative work.

Boredom itself allows creativity to flow. However, modern society with all its gadgets has gotten really good at distracting us from this boredom.

In the right environment, boredom fuels creative people. Instead of staring at your phone, stare at the blank page. Instead of sitting in front of the TV, sit in front of the canvas.

Creativity is often thought of as creating something unique. But, most of what we experience as "new" is simply old stuff presented in fresh or unexpected ways.

Creative work also adds some kind of value to the world. If something is novel but doesn't add value, we won't consider it. If it adds value but isn't new, we consider it to be a rip-off.

An ordinary life allows creative people to put food on the table and hone their crafts at the same time.

  • Ernest Hemingway, one of the most famous American authors in the past century, had a day job during most of his literary career.
  • Salman Rushdie was a copywriter during the day and worked on his novels at night.
The Decision Matrix
This is a decision making version of the Eisenhower Matrix, which helps you distinguish between what’s important and what’s urgent, in a simple and easy to understand way.
Consequential and irreversible decisions are the ones that you really need to focus on, and the extra time and energy saved can be utilized in this area.
The Decision Matrix
Decisions can be classified as:
  • Irreversible and inconsequential
  • Irreversible and consequential
  • Reversible and inconsequential
  • Reversible and consequential

The decisions we spend the most time on are rarely the most important ones.

Tricky Decisions
Reversible and consequential decisions  trick you into thinking they are one big important decision.

In reality, reversible and consequential decisions are the perfect decisions to run experiments and gather information.

Save Time by delegating
Delegated both types of inconsequential decisions to subordinates or the team helps save a lot of time.

Inconsequential decisions are the perfect training ground to develop judgment.

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