Thinking Matters: Here’s Two Ways We Do It
Blogger Tim Urban nails the difference between a cook and a chef by reminding us of one thing—even if he’s kicking ass and serving up heaven on a plate, a cook follows the recipe.
A chef doesn’t bother.
Instead of spicing up four or five steps that have worked a million times, he considers the taste, texture, and potential of every ingredient. He knows baking, whisking, chopping, and even deep-frying back to front. When he’s not shredding amateurs on reality T.V., his vast knowledge lets him zip around like Picasso, inventing, disrupting, or custom-building whatever he wants.
Both put food on the table, but the cook shows us a more common. Writ large, most people think, decide, and face the unknown by sticking to analogies, tried and true templates of what’s worked most of the time and in most situations.
Think college after high school, a thirty year mortgage, a 401k… and don’t forget that perfect chili recipe.
Nothing wrong with that.
But in their best impressions of Socrates, Bezos, or Elon Musk, chefs show us that most things can be cut down to first principles, core truths, and structures that anchor reality. Building on the foundation, chefs tap their knowledge, ignore old assumptions, and shake everything up.
If you think about it, there’s a good reason you’ll find more cooks than chefs in the kitchen. While a few outliers might shoot the friggin’ moon, everyone’s gotta eat.
Which One Are You?
When you’re staring at a problem, do you reach for the ready-made solution? Or do you back it up, take stock of what you know, and start brainstorming?
Truth is, life calls for both.
Sometimes, analogies save our asses…but other times, we can jam with first principles and make something incredible. We know that most breakthroughs take an upstart, someone who won’t quit prodding, running the numbers and asking why the hell can’t we launch a space rocket at a fraction of the cost?
False assumptions start when we mistake analogies for principles, claim credit that just ain’t ours, or something’s a lot easier than it looks.
But what happens when a new, scary world scrambles our bearings, leaving us unsure of who or what to trust? How do we respond when the journey clobbers us, yanks the rug out, and drops us in a place where all those neat analogies ain’t gonna help?
Whether we’ve got a wizard’s hat or a recipe book tattooed on our flank, there’s a first principle we can all start with—our own thinking is mighty slippery.
So how do we trust it?
Soon Enough, Bad Assumptions Show Themselves
We all think we think, but time and again, we don’t even know how.
That might be why it’s so much fun to watch someone waltz forward with biased assumptions that should work just fine… and then go ass over teakettle.
It doesn’t take much genius to spot irrational, emotional, decisions wreaking real havoc… and the analogies that were supposed to work retreating in the rearview. What catches us off guard is how naive and simplistic the assumptions were.
-I can quit whenever I want.
-Giving housing loans to anyone with a pulse is great for the economy.
-Locking up healthy people protects them from a virus.
– Demonizing, trampling, and freezing the bank accounts of citizens who don’t agree with you saves democracy.
Or even ones like:
-Invading a neighboring country with a weaker army means easy victory… and the heartfelt loyalty of its shivering, traumatized civilian population.
Believe it or not… behind each and every belly flop, some semi-reasonable assumptions made the rounds in an echo chamber. Somewhere, a decent analogy that worked before took a very wrong turn.
We can all identify emotional, biased assumptions in the news… but in our own humble grind, we’re always the rational one.
Turns out we’re not.
Not if bias, stress and our own echo chambers have anything to say about it…. not to mention those knee-jerk urges to compare ourselves, filter out what we don’t want to hear, and double down on the same old recipe. When do we stop and ask what success or failure really mean?
But There’s Good News
We might be a cook, a chef, or a combination of the two… but if we’re human, then we’re a learning machine.
Part of the programming is the ability to learn more about it. With some honesty. practice, and a good helping of self-discipline, we can learn hard lessons, accept our limits, grow our reasoning muscles, and shed some analogies for bad recipes that they are.
We could throw out any number of sources here… but it won’t take much for you to click around and find your own Socratic-style ammo for:
- *Examining and following your ideas to the source.
Ask yourself: Why do I think this? What exactly do I think?
- Challenging assumptions
How do I know this is true? What if I thought the opposite?
- Verifying with evidence
How can I back this up? What are the sources?
- Taking alternative perspectives
What might others think? How do I know I am correct?
- Examining consequences and their implications
What follows if I am wrong?
- Evaluating beliefs, assumptions, and initial questions
Why did I think that? Was I correct? What lessons can I learn?
*We found this list here, in case you’re piqued. It’s part of a meaty article on thinking from first principles, and how dudes like Elon Musk put them to use building rockets.
You can even go down the rabbit trail of which brain hemisphere leads us to double-down on self-centered assumptions, and which takes a less-panicked, and more open approach to the unknown.
In Whole Brain Living, Jill Bolte Taylor tackles that topic head on, and argues that a successful hero needs BOTH:
However you learn, and whatever you read along the way, don’t ever stop.
Daring With the Fundamentals
What does all this have to do with Dare?
With entrepreneurs, accounts receivable, and stock markets reflecting the batshit reality of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
If you zoom out enough, some first principles make themselves clear… and over years of doing this, they’ve sharpened our approach to lending, financing, and partnering with entrepreneurs:
-Data, via proprietary technology, that helps us manage relationships versus emotional decisions
-The fundamental importance of the relationship, which everyone talks about, but few know how to do well
-Erring on the side of cooperation
-Facing hard facts with empathy, because just like our clients, we have been there
Shifting from pandemic to war and on to the next headline, we’ve watched these principles become more important, more essential to how we run our business. And we’re reminded of the fact that all this has been, and probably will be, the cycle of human experience.
If following the recipe just ain’t working, it’s not the end of the world… and in the choice words of Notorious B.I.G. “if you don’t know now, now you know.”
It might be time to fire up that outdoor grill you’ve never used. And if you’re a doer, someone who bristles at the same old recipe, then give us a call.
Your move, chef.