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Why does Jim O'Shaughnessy Think in Twos?
Every day, Jim O'Shaughnessy posts two thoughts from a thinker.
His final question for each of his podcasts is for two ideas to change the world:
Our final question, which is, we're going to make you the emperor of the whole world.
For one day. You can't kill anybody. You can't put anyone in a reeducation camp, you can't disappear the people who really bother you.
But you can incept people, you can get them to wake up the day after you've done your duty as the emperor of the world, thinking that it's their own idea.
What two ideas are you going to be a babel fish and implant and incept in humanity's mind?
I always wondered why Jim asks for two ideas.
The O'Shaughnessy family has a great tradition of closing questions. Jim’s son, Patrick, asks, “What is the kindest thing anyone’s ever done for you?” I thought this was a great question and I spent some time answering it. I wondered what my answer to Jim’s would be.
Coming up with two inceptions made me wonder again why Jim asked for two. And I wondered, “What if this is a feature, not a bug?”
I’m fascinated by the idea that tension between opposites is creative. The tension between predator and prey is the evolutionary pressure that creates the most perfect forms of each. Progressivism and Conservatism bring new ideas while retaining useful values.
The tension works because it reduces the possibility of over-optimization. If prey animals dominated, they would overfeed and destroy the vegetation. If predators dominated, they would hunt the prey to extinction and the ecosystem would collapse. Unfettered Progressivism leads to chaos while unrestrained Conservatism results in stasis. When there is a single-minded focus, that idea becomes corrupted.
So if I were the emperor for a day, my two ideas would oppose each other:
I would want everyone in the world to have a bias for action
I want everyone in the world to ask themselves, “How am I wrong?”
Every day I find myself turning down opportunities. Case in point, this essay. I’ve had three weeks to work on it, it’s due in five hours, and I’m wondering if I should bother finishing it. Obviously, we can only accomplish something if we do it. But doing things is how we learn. Learning is a constant cycle of doing things and experiencing the consequences.
Doing is how other people find us.
Obviously, doing everything isn’t a great idea. I have a million things running through my head constantly, with bad ideas vastly outnumbering good ideas. Doing everything would crowd out what I actually want to do.
The second inception idea is knowing that you’re wrong in some way. There are no absolutes. There is always an edge case where your idea will not work. There is a counterfactual that you haven't thought of. There are unforeseen consequences. Knowing there are unknown unknowns is actually a good thing, it’s how you think deeply about a problem.
But thinking about how you’re wrong creates paralysis analysis.
The combination of having a bias for action and knowing that you’re wrong in some way creates thoughtful action. Action free of ideology and force.
And the doers would be pragmatic and have humility. They won’t believe that the ends justify the means.