Loosing the Forest for the Tree

by Ron Potter

You’ve seen me turn to Shane Parrish many times.  I think he is one of the best “thinkers” around today which makes him my favorite blogger.

Einstein Essentials

In this article, Shane talks about how Albert Einstein sorts the essential from the non-essential.

I can also go back to one of my favorite Aristotle quotes that I use for great teamwork: Truth, Love, Beauty, Unity.  Beauty is what Shane and Einstein are talking about here.

In Aristotle’s terms, he is talking about the simplest, most direct, most essential information.  Sorting out the essential from the non-essential is the key to great success but it’s getting harder every day.  Social media has filled our lives with more and more non-essential information.  Years ago I decided that the daily news was not about the news but about entertainment and sensationalism in an attempt to gain larger marketing numbers.  I stopped watching the evening news nearly twenty years ago because I found it irrelevant.  It was not about wisdom.  It was non-essential!

Einstein’s greatest gift

In Shanes’s observation of Einstein, he notes that a great mathematical mind was not his greatest gift.  It was not.  His greatest gift was the ability to sift the essential from the inessential, to grasp simplicity when everyone else was lost in the clutter.  Too many people today are considered experts on a particular topic and work hard at making it more complicated.  Real genius works hard at simplification.  In Einstein’s biography, it points out that it wasn’t that Einstein understood more about complicated things that made him impressive.  It was that he understood the value of simplicity.

In working with several corporate leadership teams through the years I would often observe those leaders who always wanted more information before they could or would make a decision.  My reaction was they didn’t understand the problem or issue and therefore they wanted more information in an effort to understand.  It seemed to me that the best leaders, investors, and advisors always simplified the situation to a few essentials that would make the decision clear and understandable.

We were talking with our own financial advisor recently.  It seemed to me that the market had been in a wild gyration over the last few weeks with the Dow going up and down several hundred points per day.  When I asked how they dealt with such volatility his answer was “It’s just noise.”  To him, it was non-essential information.

Filtering Skills

Shane closes his article by listing the skills to better filter and process:

  • Focus on understanding basic, timeless, general principles of the world and use them to help filter people, ideas, and projects.  The italics are mine.  The news is not timeless, it’s daily.  Timeless principles are the ones that last and ones we should be focused on.
  • Take time to think about what we’re trying to achieve and the two or three variables that will most help us get there.  Three variables lead to six options.  Four variables lead to 24 options.  The human brain can only deal with about seven options at a time.  Keep your variables to three or less.  Otherwise, the brain cannot process it.
  • Remove the inessential clutter from our lives.  This can be the things we think about, the number of balls we try to keep in the air, and even stuff.  The stuff you collect over time only creates clutter in the long run.  Sort it out.  Get rid of the inessential.
  • Think backward about what we want to avoid.  Start with the end in mind.

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