Discover more from Unknown Unknowns
🤯Unknown Unknowns #105 - Throw Out the Playbook
I have a hidden graveyard. It’s my downloads folder and it’s filled with PDFs promising Five Steps to Copywriting, The Essential Playbook for Twitter, and the like. A simple playbook that you can follow is so tantalizing. All I have to do is these steps and I’ll have the same success as the guy who wrote it.
It’s not just PDFs, Twitter is mobbed by formulas – threads of how so-and-so accomplished XYZ. Open up Twitter (just make sure you come back). I’m sure your timeline is filled with tweets like this:
A question that is counterintuitive
I have relevant experience
Here are 9 lessons that allow you to do X
This kind of content used to appeal to me because I prided myself on thinking rationally and algorithmically. I believed that if you worked hard enough, you could come up with a solution for every scenario.
But life isn’t a flowchart, there will always be situations that you didn’t anticipate. You’ll also end up looking like Nathan Fielder in The Rehearsal.
If playbooks are useless, why are they so prevalent? Playbooks sell you the dream that you don't have to figure anything out. The problem is that no playbook will work for your exact situation. Playbooks need to be integrated into a broader understanding of the situation - you need context.
I’m reminded of Iain McGilchrist's concept of the right brain hemisphere versus the left brain hemisphere. The Left brain is rational thought, while the Right brain is synthesis. The Left brain tries to make the illegible legible, while the Right brain contextualizes the legible frameworks. In other words, the Left brain makes lists and algorithms and the Right brain tells you what’s important and when to do something.
Playbooks are a perfect illustration of Left brain thinking. A series of steps to accomplish our goals. Unfortunately, those steps may not apply to our specific circumstances or our strengths or weaknesses. We need some Right brain thinking to fit the playbook to our circumstances.
I just started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) a month ago. At the beginning of each class, students learn variations of a technique, practicing against a partner with increasing levels of resistance. This is Left brain thinking. You’re breaking the technique into a series of steps that you can execute.
The last part of the class is a free-for-all “rolling” session against a partner at 100% effort. Your partner isn’t just resisting you, he’s actively trying to implement his own techniques. This is the perfect environment for the Right brain to get involved.
As a beginner, when I’m rolling I don’t even have the presence of mind to apply a technique. I’m too busy just trying to not get contorted into a knot. On top of that, I don’t know any techniques well enough to be instinctual, and if the move isn’t instinctual, it won’t be fast enough - my opponent isn’t waiting for me to make a move, he’s simultaneously trying something of his own. I haven’t integrated a move where I know how to use it in any circumstance yet. I can only use a technique under perfect circumstances - and those are few and far between right now.
But with each session, I’m a tiny bit more comfortable. The game “slows down” just a bit every time. The more I practice a technique, and the more times I’m in a situation where I can use that technique, my Right brain is getting a little bit closer to connecting the dots where I can pull the trigger.
BJJ is a perfect laboratory for understanding the interplay between Left brain and Right brain thinking. So if you want to put those dusty playbooks to use, find opportunities to experiment with them, and don’t get disappointed when they don’t work at first.
1️⃣introduced me to the ideas of Iain McGilchrist (and got me started on BJJ). For a better explanation of McGilchrist’s ideas, I highly recommend the below essay. I also recommend his newsletter, What’s Important?
2️⃣ Rory van Vliet focuses on teaching the principle behind the techniques in BJJ. Understanding the whys helps with adding context to each technique. In his lessons, I find a lot of metaphors toward life.
“If you focus on "learning moves," this is reliant on your opponent not knowing how to defend.” - Rory van Vliet
3️⃣ At the 2003 Berkshire Meeting, Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger discussed how they don’t like using mechanistic formulas. Mechanical formulas (Left brain) allow “know-nothing” people to put a value on an asset, but by understanding the context (Right brain) you can take advantage of the times when they don’t work.
Quote of the Week:
Creativity is the greatest rebellion in existence. If you want to create you have to get rid of all conditionings, otherwise your creativity will be nothing but copying, it will be just a carbon copy. You can be creative only if you are an individual, you cannot create as a part of the mob psychology. The mob psychology is uncreative: it lives a life which drags – it knows no dance, no song, no joy, it is mechanical. - Osho
You can find more of my writing at chr.iswong.com.
Questions, suggestions, complaints? Email me at [email protected].
If you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with a friend or two. And feel free to send anything you find interesting to me!
Leaving you in peace,