Rethinking cause and effect

The “cause vs. correlation” problem can be summarized like this: Just because A and B are related doesn’t mean that A caused B. We are often quick to assign meaning to any two pieces of data that seem to be connected.

A book called Spurious Correlations points out dozens of things that are correlated, but for which only a lunatic would believe there was a causal relationship. Among my favorites: It turns out that between 2000 and 2009 the divorce rate in Maine is perfectly correlated with the per capita consumption of margarine.

Before concluding that consuming margarine causes divorces in Maine, perhaps we can think to ourselves: Did A really cause B?  Is there even a connection here?

Timeless principles

To paraphrase Jeff Bezos: I can’t predict what people will want in the future, but I can predict that no one will say “I want to pay more money for things and wait longer to receive them.”One of the reasons that some companies lead trends is that they accept that they can’t predict everything, but that certain principles are timeless and predictable. 

We don’t know what will be considered commonplace in the future, in terms of education, jobs, or relationships.   But we can bet that people will still want and need to acquire skills, trade those skills for money, maintain healthy adult relationships.

Just thinking this way opens a virtual buffet of portable, valuable problem-solving skills you can acquire regardless of what new tech, tools, platforms, or trends emerge.

 
 

Difficult decision-making made easy

One of the most dangerous tricks our brain plays on us – from a time-spent perspective – is convincing us that everything on our to-do list is equally urgent and important.

For a rational and simple way of organizing the multitude of tasks we all have in a given day/week/month/year, search the “Eisenhower Matrix.”

This matrix helps us organize chaos. Here it is in one sentence: If a task is truly important, either do it now (if urgent) or schedule it, and if a task is less (or un-) important, delegate it or eliminate the task altogether.

How to get the most useful feedback

There are better and worse ways to get feedback on anything.  The worst way is to ask a closed-ended question (any question that can be answered with yes or no).  The best always involves open-ended questions.

Big companies seem to ask useless questions whose answers are not actionable.  This happens when their goal is to obtain enough quantitative data to tell a story like: “93% of people recommend this software.”  That’s nice, but make sure you also ask those people what they’d REALLY like from you.

In my experience, out of the hundreds of possible questions you could ask (assuming you really want feedback and not validation), there is one that proves most useful: “How can this be improved?”

The one, most important thing

“What is the one thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

This is one of the most powerful focusing questions you can ask yourself.  You won’t always find a magic bullet that renders everything else unnecessary, but there is an emotionally stabilizing effect of just deciding to focus on one thing to the exclusion of all else.

There are infinite ways to direct your energy.  There is no power like that of consciously directing yours where it’s most beneficial.

How to improve your luck

No matter your work ethic or intelligence, luck is a major variable in any successful outcome.  I learned a phrase that’s worth sharing:  “increase the surface area of luck.”

It’s almost impossible to connect dots forward, but easy in hindsight.  Who knew that offering helpful advice would turn a stranger into an investor?  How could you have foreseen that selflessly promoting someone’s work would lead to a lifelong relationship with one of that person’s close friends?

Increasing the surface area means expanding your influence, assistance, wealth and knowledge with others.  This catapults the probability that so-called serendipities, unexplainable circumstances, and unpredictable luck will seem to land in your lap.

Not all advice from smart people is smart

Wise people seek advice from others who may know more. But we need to evaluate any advice in light of our current needs. There is no universally perfect guidance for some dilemmas, especially when it comes to money and career advice.

Quit your day job to “follow your dreams” is not sensible advice for most people.

Even intelligent, well-intended people may make the mistake of advising you through the lens of their own experience, and they won’t have to live with the outcomes. There is plenty of great advice – just make sure whatever you act on is useful and relevant for you, right now.

Ethical hack

Sometimes the voice of our ancient, inner primate lures us towards decisions that we know will be harmful.  In other words, we know it’s “wrong” but we still want to do it. This can produce an agonizing internal ethical debate.

One hack to allow your higher-self to gain control is to consider how you’ll feel afterward. Let the feeling (often guilt) sink in.  Ruminating in the awful hangover rather than the short-term taste of the drink can diminish the thrill of drinking.

Drinking of course is a metaphor for any decision that you know doesn’t serve you.

Here is what’s most important when comforting others

There is no shortage of examples showing how stereotypical male and female conversations break down due to differences in communication style. Getting past the stereotypes though, a person’s emotional state, as well as their intentions for communicating, are important but not always obvious.

It’s critical to realize that there are multiple states of distress, so being helpful depends less on their identities and attributes (men/women, young/old, communication style) and more on their present state.

They may feel bad and NOT want to feel better (just how quickly do you want to feel “good” about the death of a loved one?) At times it’s best to validate and allow people to express their grief.  On the other hand, they may be feeling horrible and ready to feel better, in which case advice will be more welcomed.

Click here for the video version:

How helping others helps you

A study measured the time it took for children to quickly sift through hundreds of rubber balls to collect the one with their names on them.  The second time around, they were instructed to help one another find the balls with their names on them.  As you’d guess, they achieved the same outcome in less than half the time by helping others reach their goals.

You don’t see many books with titles like ‘The top 10 ways to help others achieve success.”  Perhaps it’s not intuitive, but assisting others in getting what they want is the fastest route to finding the metaphorical rubber ball with your name on it.

Who are you helping today?