7 minute read

I finished reading Shane Parrish’s new book Clear Thinking. It has quite a few nuggets of wisdom that I’d like to reference in the future. I’m trying to get better at applying information I learn in books. Perhaps taking reflective notes is a good way to do this, so I am trying it out. Here’s to hoping I can apply a few of the following ideas in my life.

  • Reacting in the moment with your emotions can negate all the progress you’ve made towards a goal. Pause and keep a cool head. “emotions can multiply all of your progress by zero”.

  • Going with the crowd is easy, going against the crowd is hard. Rewards for going with the crowd are often immediate. Potential rewards for going against the crowd are long term and uncertain. We overestimate our ability to go against the crowd — we go with the crowd frequently even when we think we aren’t the type of person who does.

  • Knowing the difference between being kind and being nice — and the benefits of finding friends and mentors who will be kind by telling you the truth, even if that truth is tough to hear.

  • Knowing what you can control and what you cannot. Always use your energy on the things you can control. When you do something, ask yourself “Will this action make the future easier or harder?”.

  • When we experience a hardship, what matters most to our happiness is how we respond to that hardship. You can control how you respond, but usually not the entirety of what happened in the first place.

  • Adaptability and the willingness to change your mind given new information is an absolutely critical skill to build. Work against the desire to confirm your existing beliefs. Use new information to challenge those beliefs.

  • High personal and team standards often emerge as a product of the environment itself. You need to do the work and model the work for the standards to emerge.

    “Champions don’t create the standards of excellence. The standards of excellence create champions.”

  • The value of building a personal board of directors, where you identify people in the world who you aspire to be like. You want to share, understand, and internalize their values, aspirations, ways of thinking, mental models, etc. Find ways to learn about their way of being, and find ways to explicitly have that learning impact your way of being.

  • Bad habits are essentially behaviors or actions where there is a delay between the action and negative consequence.

  • People can’t be told things. You need to lead by example. You can’t just tell people to be better, you need to show them what that means.

  • Throughout our early lives, we are taught to follow rules, and we generally do. When we’re independent, very few of us create personal rules that help us to get where we want to be. Using personal rules is a powerful technique to reach your personal goals. Build rules for yourself, write them down, and follow them.

  • When asking for feedback from someone, asking “What did I miss?” is a powerful way to open up communication. People love being able to correct others. Give them the opportunity to do so, and it will help to refine your ideas.

  • Many people conflate (and value) quick choosing for decisiveness, and see a longer decision process as waffling. Inaction is a choice, and often a valuable choice for decisions that are high-stakes or irreversible.

  • When defining a problem, always state what you want to achieve, and what obstacles currently prevent you from getting there.

  • Solving the right problem is critical. We spend a lot of effort solving the wrong problems, so spending ample time identifying the root cause is worthwhile. A good question to ask yourself to help with this is: “What would have to be true for this problem not to exist in the first place?” Another strategy to ensure you are working on the right problem is, once a solution is proposed, ask yourself: “Will this solution fix the problem permanently, or will the problem return in the future?”

  • Another tactic to ensure you spend enough time in the problem definition phase is to separate problem definition from problem solving. Have separate meetings for these two things. This active barrier prevents you from working on a solution to the wrong problem.

  • A tactic to avoid getting off topic in a meeting is to frame everyone’s contribution with the following prompt: “What do you know about this problem that other people in the room don’t know?”

  • We often reduce a decision to two possible options (e.g ‘either this or that’). Things aren’t usually that simple, and this might be a signal that we are underestimating the complexity / nuance of the problem itself. Challenge yourself to think of more ways to solve the problem.

  • Challenge yourself to distill a project, goal, or problem into the single most important thing. If you have 2 things, decide what’s the #1 thing. Picking the most important thing is a forcing function to add clarity for others who need to contribute to the project’s success.

  • When receiving information, always ask yourself where that information is coming from, and where it has been. If the information is indirect, it has come through levels of understanding, interpretation, incentives, and bias. It is an abstract representation of the original information. Take this into consideration when you interpret it.

  • When you’ve made a decision and want to pressure test the decision with others, there are some really valuable prompts you can use to get more signal on the quality of your decision. The following questions are from the book:
    • “What are the variables you’d use to make this decision if you were in my shoes? How do those variables relate to one another?”
    • “What do you know about this problem that I (or other people) don’t? What can you see based on your experience that someone without your experience can’t? What do you know that most people miss?”
    • “What would be your process for deciding if you were in my shoes? How would you go about doing it? (Or: How would you tell your mother/friend to go about doing it?)”
  • When evaluating a decision, make sure to understand how consequential that decision is, and how reversible that decision is. This should inform the level of diligence and time you apply to that decision.

  • When gathering information to make a decision, have a framework for knowing when you’ve reached the ‘long tail’, and new information isn’t going to help you much. More information may add to your personal confidence in your decision, but not necessarily the accuracy of that decision.

  • If you have a highly consequential, irreversible decision, consider how you might be able to test that decision with experiments, before fully committing. Can you do a partial implementation of the decision without announcing it? This can give you more signal, and a chance to revise the decision if needed.

  • When you need a team to implement a decision or strategy, there are 4 key components: formulate, communicate, interpret, and implement. If you are the leader, formulating and communicating are your core responsibility. You must communicate the strategy, rationale, and operational boundaries for the team. Spend ample time doing this.

  • Wealth and status chasing is a slippery slope. You can convince yourself that these things will make you happy, but often they will not. Always remember whose feedback, and relationship matters to you most. “We end up chasing praise and recognition from people who don’t matter at the expense of people who do.”

  • Imagining yourself in your final days, and asking yourself some tough questions, can give you great insight into the value of actions you are taking or maybe not taking now. Here are some good prompts from the book:

    “What’s going on in the life you’re imagining? Who are the people in it? In what ways have you influenced them? What have you done for them? How have you made them feel? What are the things you’ve accomplished? What possessions do you have? What matters most as you approach your final days? What seems unimportant? What memories do you cherish? What are the things you regret? What do your friends say about you? What about your family?”

  • Finally, I absolutely loved this quote:

    “Wisdom is turning your future hindsight into your current foresight. What seems to matter in the moment rarely matters in life, yet what matters in life always matters in the moment.”

If you read the book, I would love to hear from you about the insights you found most valuable. Send me a note!