I care more about how people think and approach problems, than the conclusions they ultimately reach.
##SHOW YOUR WORK
Getting the right answer by luck doesn’t count, because it means you didn’t learn shit.
Reasonable people disagree on a range of issues, because we come from different places and have different perspectives. Anais Nin famously observed that “we don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.” Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote proclaimed to a barber “that which appears to you a barber’s basin, appears to me Mambrino’s helmet .” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mambrino) In day-to-day colloquisms: “To a hammer, every answer is a nail.”
So much of today’s politically-tinged narratives center on a political left-right dichotomy, that appears to be splitting further and further apart, and people hew to partisan identities the way they might defend their family or tribe. That is to say, sometimes irrationally, and very much personally.
A typical attack, for example, against the Dallas Morning News or Arizona Republic, both of which endorsed a Democrat this past presidential election (a first in half-a-century for the Dallas Morning News, and a first, period, for the Arizona Republic) was that oh, so the Dallas Morning News is now full of *libtards, or that the Arizona Republic is now just a Hillary shrill. Cancel your subscriptions! Cognitive dissonance, argh! And, for a good number of liberals post-election, conservatives supporting Donald Trump are reduced to a racist monolith. Complexity is rejected by both sides. (http://www.businessinsider.com/jon-stewart-reacts-election-results-critiques-liberals-2016-11)
These people see nails, barber basins, and projections of themselves. (Hint on social media interactions with them: responding to their Facebook comments is pointless)
In college, maybe, *maybe, a professor once said to you, the answer on an exam matters, but it also matters how you arrived at your answer. You were told, “Show your work.”In other words, getting the right answer by luck doesn’t count, because that means you didn’t learn shit.
To conservatives, irrational thinking, consistent with conservative ideology, shouldn’t be worth shit. To liberals, irrational thinking consistent with liberal ideology, shouldn’t be worth shit.
The quality of thinking and approach to problem-solving matters.
In fact, the quality of thinking may be the only thing that matters, once we accept that in a large and diverse democracy, we are bound to encounter many differences. We should be willing to accept those differences that arise from thoughtful consideration and reject those arising from snap judgement, and for not showing the work.
### THE FOX AND THE HEDGEHOG
There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.’ … taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general. For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel – a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance – and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related to no moral or aesthetic principle.
These last lead lives, perform acts and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal; their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without, consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision.
The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes; and without insisting on a rigid classification, we may, without too much fear of contradiction, say that, in this sense, Dante belongs to the first category, Shakespeare to the second; Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Proust are, in varying degrees, hedgehogs; Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce are foxes.
Of course, like all over-simple classifications of this type, the dichotomy becomes, if pressed, artificial, scholastic and ultimately absurd. But if it is not an aid to serious criticism, neither should it be rejected as being merely superficial or frivolous: like all distinctions which embody any degree of truth, it offers a point of view from which to look and compare, a starting-point for genuine investigation.
Isaiah Berlin, THE HEDGEHOG AND THE FOX, 1953.
(A broader argument could also be made that senior leadership levels – e.g. CEO, where an organization defines its values and its vision, and where strategic thinking matters more than operational brilliance (COO/Executive Officers) – should be occupied by Foxes and not Hedgehogs, in an “increasingly complex and demanding world” with events and developments occurring at “remarkable speed.”)
Update to original list
Nate Silver, “THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE: Why so Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t“, 2015
Fox – Hedgehog:
- Tyrion Lannister – Cersei Lannister
- James Mattis – Michael Flynn/McGeorge Bundy
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb / Jeff Bezos – Howard Sosin
- Osama bin Laden -Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi
- Abraham Lincoln / James Madison – I have a good brain
- XO Ron Hunter – CO Frank Ramsey (Crimson Tide)
- Phillip Jennings – Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)
- Jean Valjean – Javert (Les Miserables)
- Prince (the Artist formerly known as) –
- “Moderates” – Ideologues/Extremists
- Strategic thinkers – Operational tinkerers
1 Simon Johnson, “The Queen urges Britain to calm down”, THE TELEGRAPH, July 2, 2016
The monarch used her address at the opening of the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament to recommend to the UK’s political class that they allow “room for quiet thinking and contemplation” before they decide their next move.
Alluding to the political economic turmoil that has enveloped the country since the vote to Leave the European Union, she said that Britons “live and work in an increasingly complex and demanding world” with events and developments occurring at “remarkable speed”.
The Queen admitted that the ability to “stay calm and collected” in such circumstances can be “hard” but argued that a major hallmark of leadership is the ability to take a step back. She argued this would allow for a “deeper consideration of how challenges and opportunities can be best addressed.”
2. Mark Chussil, “Slow Deciders Make Better Strategists,” HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW, July 8, 2016
There are many ways to split people into two groups. Young and old. Rich and poor. Us and them. The 98% who can do arithmetic and the 3% who cannot. Those who split people into two groups and those who don’t.
Then there’s the people who make good competitive-strategy decisions, and those who don’t.… the essential lesson for competitive-strategy decision-makers is not so fast, in both senses of the phrase: take your time and don’t be so sure. That’s the mindset used by the new VP and the I-don’t-knows.
The willingness to apply that mindset is what separates the good decision-makers from the bad.
3. George R. R. Martin, “A Song of Fire and Ice,” GAME OF THRONES
“She does not lack for wits, but she has no judgment, and no *patience.”
4. Will Hutton, “We need a social media with heart that gives us time to think,” THE GUARDIAN, February 7, 2016
System 2 thinking is slower and more deliberative. You marshal evidence, you exercise judgment, you discuss with others and you try to arrive at conclusions that will hold up. It is time-consuming, intellectual and hard. It would obviously be better if more decisions were subject to System 2 treatment, but in the hurly-burly of life it is just not possible.
We fall back on System 1, with all its inherent cognitive biases, to get through the day. We are over-optimistic, over-emotional, too readily influenced by the way a recent event has framed our thinking, too anxious to avert risk rather than seize opportunity for no other reason than this is where fast, intuitive System 1 thinking takes us. We simply have to rely on the intuitive to manage all the impulses hitting us.
… Social media is changing the rules. Paradoxically, it is teaching us that we need more time to think – and space in which to be serious.
Cf, David Z. Hambrick & Alexander P Burgoyne, “The Difference Between Rationality and Intelligence,” THE NEW YORK TIMES, September 16, 2016:
It all started in the early 1970s, when the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky conducted an influential series of experiments showing that all of us, even highly intelligent people, are prone to irrationality. Across a wide range of scenarios, the experiments revealed, people tend to make decisions based on intuition rather than reason.
In one study, Professors Kahneman and Tversky had people read the following personality sketch for a woman named Linda: “Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in antinuclear demonstrations.” Then they asked the subjects which was more probable: (A) Linda is a bank teller or (B) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement. Eighty-five percent of the subjects chose B, even though logically speaking, A is more probable. (All feminist bank tellers are bank tellers, though some bank tellers may not be feminists.)
In the Linda problem, we fall prey to the conjunction fallacy — the belief that the co-occurrence of two events is more likely than the occurrence of one of the events. In other cases, we ignore information about the prevalence of events when judging their likelihood. We fail to consider alternative explanations. We evaluate evidence in a manner consistent with our prior beliefs. And so on. Humans, it seems, are fundamentally irrational.
David Dunning, “We are all confident idiots”, PACIFIC STANDARD, October 27, 2014
The American author and aphorist William Feather once wrote that being educated means “being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.” As it turns out, this simple ideal is extremely hard to achieve. Although what we know is often perceptible to us, even the broad outlines of what we don’t know are all too often completely invisible. To a great degree, we fail to recognize the frequency and scope of our ignorance.
5. Malcolm Gladwell, “DAVID AND GOLIATH: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants”, 2013
“… your ability to understand when something is more complex than it appears – to move past impulsive answers to deeper analytic judgments.”
6. James Mattis, US Naval Academy lecture, January 30, 2012
“I spent 30 years getting ready for that decision that took 30 seconds.”
6. David Halberstam, THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST, 1993
“… there was something lacking: his thinking and performance were too functional and operational, he was not considering the proper long-range perspective, instead he was too much the problem solver, the man who did not want to wait, who believed in action. He always had a single pragmatic answer to a single question, and he was wary of philosophies, almost too wary … But pragmatic thinking is a also short-range thinking…. A government is collapsing. How do we prop it up? Something is happening; therefore we must move. Thus, in 1965 Bundy was for getting the country into the Dominican mess, because something had to be done, and then very good at extricating us when he realized that extrication had become the problem, though as he and the men around him would learn, not all countries were as easy to get out of as the Dominican Republic.”
Cf. Chris McGreal, “America’s former CIA chief: ‘If we don’t handle China well, it will be catastrophic’”, THE GUARDIAN, 9 March 2016
“The only person to head both the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) now wonders if the US’s preoccupation with terrorism he helped shape since 9/11 has caused the country’s intelligence services to take their eye off more serious threats down the road. “The danger is we become so focused on the urgent that we don’t pay enough attention to the really important,” he says.
The urgent, says Hayden, is a terrorist trying to get a bomb on a plane. He understands the political imperative of throwing huge resources into preventing the next 9/11. But he says, carefully, that a terrorist attack “is not an existential threat to the United States”. What keeps him awake at night is what the CIA isn’t paying enough attention to.
“I call it states that are ambitious, fragile and nuclear. I put Iran and North Korea and Pakistan and even the Russians in there. Now if that heads south, that’s much worse,” he says in the corner of a hotel breakfast room in New York amid the clatter of plates. “Now if you run the timeline out to the 10-year point, it’s China. I’m not saying China’s an enemy of the United States of America. I’m just simply saying that if we do not handle the emergence of the People’s Republic well, it will be catastrophic for the world.”
Hayden frankly concedes that all of this became much clearer to him after he was effectively sacked when Barack Obama took office in 2009. Inside the CIA’s headquarters in Virginia, the mentality was summed up by a sign that read: “Today’s date is September 12, 2001.” “Where we find ourselves now is a product of us viewing ourselves as having been in combat for 15 years,” Hayden says. “We need to guard against the consequences of that.”
6. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, “ANTIFRAGILE: Things That Gain from Disorder”, 2012
“We need to learn to think in second steps, chains of consequences, and side effects.”
See, also, “Former commander of US Central Command Cautions against U.S. military involvement in Syria without an endgame” July 21, 2013
“We have no moral obligation to do the impossible and harm our children’s future because we think we just have to do something. there’s a way to do it, but it’s a commitment, not a donation. If americans take ownership of this, this is going to be a full-throated, very, very serious war.” (Emphasis added)
Cf. NO CIALIS FOR OLD MEN, October 20, 2009 https://www.facebook.com/notes/jason-l/no-cialis-for-old-men/10154730089426111
and, Robert O’Harrow Jr and Brady Dennis, “The Beautiful Machine,” THE WASHINGTON POST, December 29, 2008 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/28/AR2008122801916.html
7. Steve Coll, “GHOST WARS: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001”, 2004
“Pillar saw terrorism fundamentally as ‘a challenge to be managed, not solved’…. He objected to the metaphor of waging ‘war’ against terrorism because ‘it is a war that cannot be won’… Striving for zero terrorist attacks would be as unhealthy for American foreign policy as pushing for zero unemployment would be for the economy. In a broad sense, Pillar’s outlook accorded with Clinton’s: Terrorism was an inevitable feature of global change.”
8. David Ignatius, “Osama bin Laden, a lion in winter,” THE WASHINGTON POST, March 18, 2012
… the al-Qaeda leader turns immediately to a bitter reflection on mistakes made by his followers — especially their killing of Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere. The result, he said, “would lead us to winning several battles while losing the war at the end.” Bin Laden ruminated on the “extremely great damage” caused by these overzealous jihadists. Not only is the organization’s reputation being damaged, he noted, but “tens of thousands are being arrested” in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The brooding bin Laden advised his followers to back off on these self-defeating attacks in Muslim nations….
See, also, Joby Warrick, “BLACK FLAGS: The Rise of Isis“, 2016
9. Yochi, Dreazen, “Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, loves Russia as much as his boss does,” VOX, November 21, 2016
“… Flynn, who did multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, has also adopted some of Trump’s core foreign policy positions, including the president-elect’s beliefs that ISIS poses the biggest threat to the US and that the military needs to take a far more aggressive approach to fighting the group.
That’s starkly different from the viewpoints of the serving generals Flynn will now help to oversee, who generally support the Obama administration’s current strategy of bombing ISIS from the air while arming and training local forces battling on the ground. They also think Russia, not ISIS, is the biggest threat to the US.
During his July 9 confirmation hearing to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. said, “Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security” and “could pose an existential threat to the United States.” ISIS was fourth on his list, behind China and North Korea.
ISIS was even lower down the list of Dunford’s deputy, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, who told lawmakers at the time that he “would put the threats to this nation in the following order: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and all of the organizations that have grown around ideology that was articulated by al-Qaeda.”
“Right now, [the Islamic State] does not present a clear and present threat to our homeland and to our nation,” Selva said, adding that Russia’s powerful armed forces could become an “existential threat to this country.”
Given his newfound power, Flynn could help Trump brush aside those concerns in favor of doubling down on what the military’s top brass see as the wrong war and cozying up to the country many military leaders see as our greatest threat.
10. Strategic patience v tactical bias for action – March 26, 2016
“What do you want you want us to do? Sit around and do nothing?!” – Battalion Operations Officer, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2010
11. Larry Summers, “Trump’s Carrier deal an ad hoc capitalism”, December 2 2016
“I have always thought of American capitalism as dominantly rule and law based. Courts enforce contracts and property rights in ways that are largely independent of just who it is who is before them. Taxes are calculable on the basis of an arithmetic algorithm. Companies and governments buy from the cheapest bidder. Regulation follows previously promulgated rules. In the economic arena, the state’s monopoly on the use of force is used to enforce contract and property rights and to enforce previously promulgated laws.
Even though we know of instances of corruption, abuse of power, favoritism and selective enforcement, we take this rules-based system for granted. But looking around the world today or back through American history, this model is hardly a norm. Many market economies operate what might be called ad hoc or deals-based capitalism: Economic actors assume that they have to protect their property and do their own contract enforcement. Tax collectors use discretion in assessing taxes. Companies and governments buy from their friends rather than seek low cost bids. Regulators abuse their power. The state’s monopoly on the use of force is used to enrich and satisfy the desires of those who control the apparatus of the state.
This is the world of New York City under Tammany Hall, of Suharto’s Indonesia, and of Putin’s Russia.
Reliance on rules and law has enormous advantages. It greatly increases predictability and reduces uncertainty. It reduces expenditures on both guarding property and seeking to appropriate property. It promotes freedom because most of the people most of the time do not take political positions with a view to gaining commercial advantage. The advantages of the rule of law are so great that I would claim that there is no country more than 2/3 as rich as the United States that does not have a strong tradition of the rule of law based capitalism. And I know of no country where the people are free where the rule of law does not largely govern market interactions.
It seems to me what we have just witnessed is an act of ad hoc deal capitalism and worse yet its celebration as a model. As with the air traffic controllers only a negligible sliver of the economy is involved but there is huge symbolic value. A #principle is being established: it is good for the President to try to figure out what people want and lean on companies to give it to them. Predictability and #procedure are less important than getting the right #result at the right time. Like Hong Kong as the mainland increasingly imposes its will, we may have taken a first step towards a kind of reverse transition from rule of law capitalism to ad hoc deal-based capitalism.
The commentary on the President-elect’s actions has emphasized its novelty, has emphasized the difficulties of scaling, and in the case of Bernie Sanders has argued that the actions taken were insufficiently forceful because some workers will still be relocated to Mexico. All of this misses the point.
Presidents have enormous latent power and it is the custom of restraint in its use that is one of the important differences between us and banana republics. If its ad hoc use is licensed, the possibilities are endless. Most companies will prefer the good to the bad will of the US President and his leadership team. Should that reality be levered to get them to locate where the President wants, to make contributions to the President’s re-election campaign , to hire people the President wants to see hired, to do the kinds of research the President wants carried out, or to lend money to those that the President wants to see assisted?
Some of the worst abuses of power are not those that leaders inflict on their people. They are the acts that the people demand from their leaders. I fear in a way that is more fundamental than a bad tax policy or tariff we have started down the road of changing the operating assumptions of our capitalism.
I hope I am wrong but I expect that as a consequence we are going to be not only poorer but less free.
12. Intelligence is a different creature than rationality, open-mindedness, and self-awareness.
13. David Remnick, “One and Off the Road with Barack Obama,” THE NEW YORKER, January 2014
“I have strengths and I have weaknesses, like every President, like every person,” Obama said. “I do think one of my strengths is temperament. I am comfortable with complexity, and I think I’m pretty good at keeping my moral compass while recognizing that I am a product of original sin. And every morning and every night I’m taking measure of my actions against the options and possibilities available to me, understanding that there are going to be mistakes that I make and my team makes and that America makes; understanding that there are going to be limits to the good we can do and the bad that we can prevent, and that there’s going to be tragedy out there and, by occupying this office, I am part of that tragedy occasionally, but that if I am doing my very best and basing my decisions on the core values and ideals that I was brought up with and that I think are pretty consistent with those of most Americans, that at the end of the day things will be better rather than worse.”
“I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges and rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past,” he said. “But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and goodness of our forebears. And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have.” The long view again. “But I think our decisions matter,” he went on. “And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”
Cf. Ben S. Bernanke, Federal Reserve Board Speech, Baccalaureate Ceremony, Princeton University, June 2 2013
“Ultimately … cynicism is a poor substitute for critical thought and constructive action. Sure, interests and money and ideology all matter, as you learned in political science. But my experience is that most of our politicians and policymakers are trying to do the right thing, according to their own views and consciences, most of the time. If you think that the bad or indifferent results that too often come out of Washington are due to base motives and bad intentions, you are giving politicians and policymakers way too much credit for being effective.
“Honest error in the face of complex and possibly intractable problems is a far more important source of bad results than are bad motives. For these reasons, the greatest forces in Washington are ideas, and people prepared to act on those ideas. Public service isn’t easy. But, in the end, if you are inclined in that direction, it is a worthy and challenging pursuit.
“Will you keep learning and thinking hard and critically about the most important questions? Will you become an emotionally stronger person, more generous, more loving, more ethical? Will you involve yourself actively and constructively in the world? Many things will happen in your lives, pleasant and not so pleasant, but, paraphrasing a Woodrow Wilson School adage from the time I was here, “Wherever you go, there you are.” If you are not happy with yourself, even the loftiest achievements won’t bring you much satisfaction.
14. See, also, “Because men are not angels: Why James Madison really matters,” THE ECONOMIST, April 26, 2014
15. Crimson Tide (1995)
(270) What are you, a communist? You have a problem with us dropping nuclear bombs on Japan?
(271) Shut up, Dougherty.
(272) You think it was a mistake, Mr. Hunter? Sir?
(273) Using the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
(274) Well, if I thought that, sir, I wouldn’t be here.
(275) Interesting way you put that. How’d I put it, sir?
(276) Very carefully.
(277) You do qualify your remarks.
(278) If somebody asked me if we should have bombed Japan…
(279) a simple “Yes, by all means, sir, drop that fucker. Twice.”
(280) I don’t mean to suggest that you’re indecisive, Mr. Hunter.
(281) Not at all.
(282) Just, um, complicated.
(283) Of course, that’s the way the Navy wants you.
(284) Me, they wanted simple.
(285) Well, you certainly fooled them, sir.
(286) Be careful there, Mr. Hunter.
(287) It’s all I got to rely on: Bein’ a simpleminded son of a bitch.
(288) Rickover gave me my command, a checklist…
(289) a target and a button to push.
(290) All I had to know is how to push it. They’d tell me when.
(291) They seem to want you to know why.
(292) I would hope they’d want us all to know why, sir.
(293) At the Naval War College, it was metallurgy and nuclear reactors, not 19th-century philosophy.
(294) “War is a continuation of politics by other means.”
(295) Von Clausewitz.
(296) I think, uh, sir, that what he was actually trying to say was a little more…
(298) Y-Yes, the purpose of war is, is to serve a political end…
(299) but the true nature of war is to serve itself. I’m very impressed.
(300) In other words, the sailor most likely to win the war…
(301) is the one most willing to part company with the politicians…
(302) and ignore everything except the destruction of the enemy.
(303) Uh, you’d agree with that? Well…
(304) I’d agree that, uh…
(305) that’s what Clausewitz was trying to say.
(306) But you wouldn’t agree with it? No, sir, I do not.
(307) No, l-I just think that in the nuclear world…
(308) the true enemy can’t be destroyed.
(309) Attention on deck. Von Clausewitz will now tell us exactly who the real enemy is.
(311) In my humble opinion…
(312) in the nuclear world, the true enemy is war itself.
“Captain, I think you need time to think this over.”