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Weekly 3: Dig for the source


Idea Journal Weekly 3

November 14 · Issue #217 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Initial influences can have lasting effects that stretch well into the future. This issue explores three examples of this.
(~4 min read)

#1. Who's the key source of your company or initiative?
Investor Graham Duncan says in an interview that many organizational tensions are the result of not explicitly acknowledging who “the source” of the given company or initiative is. 
For Duncan, the source is “the person who took the first risk on a new initiative.”
Even when there are multiple co-founders of a company, there is always a single source.
As Duncan puts it, the source maintains a unique relationship with the “gestalt of the original idea and has an intuitive knowledge of what the right next step for the initiative is.”
Others who join later to help with the execution of the idea lack this intuitive connection to the founder’s original insight. 
And this can create tension.
Handing off the source role of a company or initiative to another person is possible, but difficult and usually mishandled. 
Graham notes that one key to a successful transition is for the original source to “actually move on and allow the new leader room to move.” 
As evidence, Graham cites one study of company stock performance following founder CEOs departing their businesses. In the study, subsequent positive stock performance was correlated with the founder completely leaving the board, rather than staying on to mentor the next CEO. 
Graham suggests Microsoft may be an example of this phenomenon. Microsoft founder Bill Gates remained on the Microsoft board when Steve Ballmer took over as the company’s second CEO. Graham points out that this may have contributed to Microsoft’s lackluster stock performance throughout Ballmer’s tenure.
But when Ballmer stepped down from the CEO role, he also left the Microsoft board, allowing current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella “to fully assert his own creative vision.”
For Graham, the lesson is best captured during a scene in the musical Hamilton, when George Washington declines Hamilton’s plea to run for a third term and sings, “We’re going to teach them how to say goodbye.”
#2. Go beyond rationalization
Author and entrepreneur Shane Snow writes on his blog that he has changed the way he thinks about his own and other people’s actions since learning about the concept of “proximate cause”: the idea that we’re bad identifying the main motivations behind our behavior.
Snow came across the concept in the book Indistractable, written by “behavioral design” expert Nir Eyal. 
In Snow’s interpretation, proximate cause means that a given action can be split into three parts: some observable behavior > a rationalization for the behavior > the real reason for the behavior.
For example, we say we’re watching TV (observation) because we’re tired (rationalization), but the real reason is that we don’t want to think about the hard conversation we need to have at work tomorrow.
Snow writes that the concept of proximate cause helped him address his problem of managing email: “We say we have an email problem (Observation) because we get so many emails (Rationalization), but The Real Reason is we don’t have a thoughtful, deliberate process for dealing with the reality of email overload.“
As Snow points out, it’s hard to identify the real reasons behind our actions because we tend only to search until we find the closest rationalization.
And then we stop.
#3. How do your past beliefs affect your present self?
Researchers Lauren McCann and Gabriel Weinberg write in their book Super Thinking that you can use the physics principle of inertia as a metaphor to understand how your past influences your present, and possibly your future. 
In physics, inertia is a physical object’s resistance to changing its current state of motion. 
As a metaphor, inertia can describe resistance to any change in direction. 
For example, take your beliefs. If you’re like most people, many of your core political, religious, and social beliefs can be traced to your family and the geographic culture in which you were raised.
Have you reevaluated any of your core beliefs recently?
If you haven’t, you’re probably hanging on to many beliefs that conflict with other beliefs you later adopted. Or maybe you have some beliefs that you’ve never questioned, even as your context and interests have changed over time.
As McCann and Weinberg point out, we tend to have inertia in our beliefs because of confirmation bias and other factors.
That inertia can increase over time: “The more inertia you have, the more resistant you will be to changing these beliefs, and the less likely you will be to adapt your thinking when you need to.”
McCann and Weinberg suggest that you can fight such personal inertia by questioning your assumptions and adapting new ways of thinking.
This exercise is increasingly important as your environment becomes more dynamic.
Quote of the week
“Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.”
- Psychology professor Robert Cialdini in his book Influence
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