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Weekly 3: Imagining possible futures


Idea Journal Weekly 3

December 22 · Issue #118 · View online

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

Summary: Believe in change. Stack the future. Stare at who you want to become. (~4 min read)
Note: Ideas #1, #2, and #3 are taken from previous issues, and we’ve combined them here to explore a new core theme: imagining possible futures.

#1. Believe in change to become better at predicting it
Entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham writes in his essay How to Be an Expert in a Changing World that when experts are wrong, “it’s often because they’re experts in an earlier version of the world.” 
If the world were static, then we could have increasing confidence in those beliefs that survived more experiences over time.
But the world isn’t static.
Graham recommends two ways to help protect yourself against obsolete beliefs:
Have an explicit belief in change: Beliefs about the future are “so rarely correct that they usually aren’t worth the extra rigidity they impose, and that the best strategy is simply to be aggressively open-minded.” It’s OK to have working hypotheses, but you should be disciplined enough to ensure they don’t “harden into anything more.”
Bet on people over ideas: Predicting the nature of future discoveries is hard. Predicting the kind of people who will make them is easier – good new ideas come from those who are earnest, energetic, and independent-minded. “If you want to notice quickly when your beliefs become obsolete, you can’t do better than to be friends with the people whose discoveries will make them so.”
#2. "Don't be a donkey"
Entrepreneur Derek Sivers writes on his blog that, “Most people over-estimate what they can do in one year, and under-estimate what they can do in ten years.”
Ask yourself:
  • Are you trying to pursue many different directions at once?
  • Are you frustrated that the world wants you to pick one of them, but you want to do them all?
The problem is short-term thinking — the flawed perspective that if you don’t pursue all of your interests now, you’ll never get to them.
Sivers illustrates the point with the following story about a donkey:
Buridan’s donkey is standing halfway between a pile of hay and a bucket of water. It keeps looking left and right, trying to decide between hay and water. Unable to decide, it eventually falls over and dies of hunger and thirst.
The donkey couldn’t think about the future. Otherwise, it would have realized that it’s possible to drink the water, and then eat the hay.
For Sivers, there’s no reason to act like the donkey. You can do everything you want to do, as long as you have foresight and patience.
For example, say you’re 30 years old now and have 5 different directions you want to pursue. If you spend 5 years on each one, you’ll have all of them completed by the time you’re 55.
This way you can pursue each direction without feeling conflicted or distracted, knowing that you’ll get to the others.
Sivers notes that we already do this on a smaller scale. When something is urgent and needs to get done today, you focus. A distracting thought may come up (e.g., It would be nice to watch a movie right now), but you put it out of your mind so that you can complete the task at hand. Once it’s complete, you can move on to other things.
The key is applying this same approach to months and years.
#3. What would your future self do?
Author Daniel Coyle writes in The Little Book of Talent that if you were to visit what he calls “talent hotbeds,” you would be struck by how much time the learners spend observing top performers.
Not passively watching, but actively staring – “the kind of raw, unblinking, intensely absorbed gazes you see in hungry cats or newborn babies.”
Coyle writes that we each live with a “windshield” of people in front of us, and a key source of motivation is to fill your windshield with images of your role models and your future self.
As Coyle points out, even a brief or indirect connection to a role model can vastly increase a person’s motivation. 
For example, in 1997 there were no South Korean golfers on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LGPA) Tour, and now there are dozens.
What happened?
One golfer, Se Ri Pak, won two major tournaments in 1998, and through her, “hundreds of South Korean girls were ignited by a new vision of their future selves.”
As the South Korean golfer Christina Kim later put it: “You say to yourself, ‘If she can do it, why can’t I?’”
Quote of the Week
“The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
- Novelist William Gibson in an interview on National Public Radio
Idea Journal
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